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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Treating jobs as an emergency

"Economic development: the use of public resources to stimulate private investment." 
-- TIP Strategies, Kittitas County Economic Plan, 2009

At candidate forums I have been talking about how we need to be treating the need for new jobs as an emergency. Briefly, here's why: of our top 5 employers in terms of payroll, 64% of the income is from taxpayer-funded sources. In particular, CWU is our top employer, paying an average salary of $40,000, and it is also the most threatened by budget cuts at the state level. Things are looking shaky for other employers, too. For example, Twin City Foods, a longtime source of family-wage-paying union jobs, has been reducing its processing tonnage for several years.

In this post, I'll write about some ideas for going after the jobs problem.2

In general I see revenue, capital, customers, and opportunities coming from the west -- the Puget Sound area, which some of us call "the coast" -- and competition coming from the east -- primarily Grant County.

Grant County has been eating our lunch in the economic development department. And we have been peeling and salting the hard boiled egg for them.

Meanwhile, we try to pretend the Seattle area doesn't exist, even though it's one of most prosperous areas in the country, and Kittitas County is the gateway to their only escape from traffic and grey skies to tourism and other activities.

We're also not using all of our geographic assets properly. Vantage, for example, has been hard hit (make that very, very hard hit) by the problems at Wanapum Dam, which is managed by the Grant County PUD, yet it is our only direct access to a big body of water for recreation. Our failure to act to help Vantage is one of those examples of letting Grant County dine at our expense, as boaters go across the Vantage Bridge to find places to launch. Vantage is important to all of us, not least because west-side visitors to Vantage can stop and spend money all the way across the county in both directions.3

More on Vantage in a soon-to-come blog post.

A 2009 economic study, commissioned by the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County, made a number of specific recommendations, some of which have been followed.4 The report was completed at the height of the Great Recession, and it would be a good idea to get an updated version. It should be possible to update it without hiring a consultant, and this would be a good opportunity for county commissioners to provide some leadership.

Now that compliance with the GMA is in place, and the water bank is filled, and the marijuana issue is almost put to rest, jobs need to a specific focus of the county commissioners' attention.5

1This report may be available on the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce's website, but the most promising link I could find turned out to be broken. If you would like a copy, let me know and I will e-mail you one.
2Here's a 2011 Daily Record Editorial about the need for more jobs.
3The Chamber of Commerce does have a beautiful web page about the Vantage area.
4You can find a 2009 Daily Record story about the report here.
5The county commissioners will probably point out that the work they have been doing has been about jobs, and to a certain extent that is of course true, but they have spent a lot of time distracted by things like the marijuana issue and the ground water situation. Both of these problems (more on water, more on marijuana) were self-inflicted, and both have occupied time that could have been better spent.

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