Chamber hosts Economic Development discussion

The Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce hosted a round table discussion on the topic of Economic Development during their regular meeting at noon today at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles.  Speakers included Larry Hueth; CEO of First Federal, Brian Kuh; President of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Dr. Luke Robins; President of Peninsula College.

Today's meeting is the result of a letter written by Dr. Robins to the chamber and the Economic Development Council suggesting such discussions begin while we are at a critical juncture brought on by personnel, and other changes in the various economic development entities locally. 

Economic Development is much in the news these days as the cities of Port Angeles and Sequim are wrestling with ideas of how to get the best results for taxpayer's investment in economic development.  Port Angeles city manager; Dan McKeen recently floated the idea of sequestering funds normally released to local agencies for economic development.

According to Larry Hueth; CEO of First Federal; employment in the private sector is down more than 900 jobs on the peninsula. "This is becomming a trend which needs reversing" he said. 

The meeting room was packed  with members and guests.  There was standing room only.  This shows there is great interest in the financial future of this area.  Economic Development, when successful, is the process by which new permanent jobs are created and new industries developed or recruited. 

Ideally, economic development should be structured to make use of local resources to create local jobs and export finished goods.

Dr. Luke Robins (pictured) assured the audience Peninsula College is ready, willing and able to train the workforce for the jobs created.  Larry Hueth of First Federal provided statistics and spoke of the consolidations in banking over the past few years and said this is what to expect in the private sector; more cooperation, consolidatiton and colaboration between the public and private sector.

Brian Kuh; President of the Chamber said he is involved in his "day job" providing lending for visionary business people who want to create more jobs and/or expand into this area. 

A question and answer period was spirited if abreviated.  Russ Veenema; Executive Director of the Chamber cut short the Q&A when audience members began to speak less than favorably on the results of previous economic development efforts. The daily paper announced ahead of time the meeting may run past its normal 1 o clock ending time.  At 1:07 Veenema closed the question and answer session.  Later in a conversation Veenema stated he didn't want to run over ten minutes long.  When asked if anyone else in the room knew of this ten minute limit.  Veenema replied "no."

Presently three local groups receive $409,000 of taxpayer money, earmarked for Economic Development. 

These groups include: Port Angeles Downtown Association, The Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Clallam County Economic Development Council. 

The Chamber of Commerce receives more than $300,000 economic development funding from city taxpayers

Ideas floated by audience members include developing a united front aimed at removing regulatory barriers which inhibit growth and job development.  Another idea discussed was to make better use of our natural resources by creating a wood pellet processing plant and even training welders at Peninsula College to make wood pellet stoves to sell locally and even to China–to go along with the timber they  already purchase from this area. 

Dr. Robins said the welding program at Peninsula College could easily adapt.

There was talk of investigating the success of The Mill Pond Project in Astoria, Oregon.  There, a few years ago, they had a piece of property with similar challenges as those of the city-owned Rayonair Property. 

Now, in Astoria, that property is a hugely successful housing development with homes selling for upwards of  $300K. 

The secret to that success was business and elected leaders presenting a united front to get legislation and or zoning adjusted to permit the desired development. 

This is the first of a series of meetings planned to address the best use of Economic Development funds in the area.

For more information on The Mill Pond Project visit:    http://www.oregon.gov/LCD/TGM/docs/CaseStudies/MillPond.pdf 

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