Economic Development, the community needs it, can anyone deliver?

Economic Development

Dr. Luke Robins; President of Peninsula College addresses an overflow crowd at recent economic development summit.

Economic Development

“Economic Development” is a term bandied about a lot these days.  The definition of economic development means different things to different people.  Port O Call prefers the phrase: “a rising tide raises all boats” to describe Economic Development; if not to define it.

Below is a lengthy academic definition provided by the website:  Economic Development dot org.  “ Financial Ledger Economic Development Definition – What is Economic Development? Economic development involves an ongoing and supported program to help and make better a general level of health, economy, security, and business in a community or region. Because the effort can be so widespread and incorporate so many aspects of a region, it typically involves millions of dollars annually and tends to be very political in award, decision-making and implementation.  

As development occurs and the immediate recipients show signs of success and benefit, others in the general area want the same benefits for themselves too.

With an initial demand for labor, many opportunities exist for community members to earn far more than they would eke out annually. The promise of living better, learning more, gaining better health, and enjoying life draws people far and wide to join in the success as well. Small cities become big, and populations in urban areas surge in number.” 

If this is the definition the city is working off of–we have failed miserably.

With the city’s investments in the aforementioned big budget projects few, if any permanent jobs have been created.  Almost all the city’s construction contracts are packaged such that they must be let to bigger companies outside the city, outside the county.  When these capital projects are completed there are no new permanent family-wage type jobs left behind.  A city looking out for its workers would break these massive contracts into smaller pieces allowing local trades, labor and suppliers, a piece of the prize.  These are the ones who will be here when the job is finished.

What if?

What if economic development money went to building a wood pellet producing plant and a foundry to build wood pellet burning stoves.  These we sell to China along with our logs.  We create permanent jobs.  Utility customers save money heating homes with wood pellet stoves.   

Peninsula College has a great welding program capable of training students to build wood pellet stoves.  As for wood pellets; we have a century’s worth of raw materials at hand.  

Why not make it our Economic Development goal to ship wood pellet stoves and wood pellets to China along with  massive shipment of logs.  There may be a market right around Puget Sound.

Soon a secondary business stream is born of this.  Wood stove dealers, installers, transportation of new stoves and wood pellets.  Soon we purchase our own re-fitted tanker and do our own delivery–to Seattle–and around the world.  
Now you’ve got an infrastructure providing permanent  local jobs, using our readily available natural resources and talents and unemployment plunges.  

With 26 “economic development” entities on the peninsula can’t anyone find a visionary?  The capital is here.  The labor is here.  What are the competing interests?

Sadly, our greatest export now happens to be our young people.  They must go where jobs are.

What they now call economic development is really tourist development; an important element but not creating family-wage type jobs.

Presently the city hands over, to three local agencies, more than four hundred thousand dollars hoping they will provide the stewardship necessary to accomplish this illusive dream of local economic development. They even call it economic development.  It is not, it is tourist development.  This is important but it does not create any new, permanent, family-wage jobs.

If you are confused by now, you are not alone.  It has been a common practice to conflate economic development spending with tourist development spending.  They are not the same.

 None of the agencies exhibit “economic development” as their expertise.  None have floated ideas for creating permanent jobs with wages to support families.  Most of these dollars are spent “marketing” Port Angeles as a tourist destination.  These dollars are earmarked for this purpose.

They cannot and should not be called “Economic Development” dollars.

This $409,000 dollar pot of  money is collected by the hospitality businesses.  It is now given to the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, ($309,000) The Port Angeles Downtown Association ($85,000) and $15,000 contributed to the county’s Economic Development Council.

While this money comes from the local lodging tax and can only be spent for tourism related promotions, few measurable metrics accompany the release of these taxpayer dollars.  

At the December 17th city council meeting, Russ Veenema; executive director of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce delivered the chamber’s report on monies spent.  

While Veenema assured the council the money was spent and delivered statistics on occupancy at local hotels he  said nothing to connect the dots–showing his efforts led to heads in beds.  No audits reflect return on investment.  Yet, the city council approved continuation of the same program without any measurable metrics.  The definition of insanity is when you continue doing the same thing expecting different results.

It has been said, repeatedly, you cannot get representatives of these 3 groups in the same room to coordinate tourist development efforts.  Each has its own turf.  

Recently, the Chamber of Commerce; at the suggestion of Dr. Luke Robins; president of Peninsula College, sponsored a program addressing economic development.  

The program was promoted far and wide.  The daily paper prepared attendees for an extended meeting saying this important meeting would go long and not finish within the normal time frame of the normally one hour luncheon.  There was standing room only.  Great expectations.

Panelist presenting to the s crowd at the Red Lion included the chamber’s president Brian Kuh,  Peninsula College President;  Dr. Luke Robins and First Federal President and CEO; Larry Hueth

Each gave excellent presentations of the challenges ahead and the need for greater dialog.  Each suggested better communication by and between the public/private sector.

After the speeches Veenema flitted among the crowd with the microphone for questions to the panel.  When the first two questions shed unfavorable light on current economic development practices, Veenema shut down the question and answer session at 7 minutes after the hour.  

Perhaps seven minutes community “dialog” was sufficient.

Many tourist related businesses are located outside the “turf” of the agencies now controlling the lodging tax dollars given them by the city.  Are these businesses located outside downtown getting equal consideration–they are collecting and paying the same taxes.

While the city is giving 3 agencies nearly one half million dollars for tourist development they are spending next to nothing on real, textbook style, economic development.
Unless there is a definite, verifiable proof of creation of new jobs–local jobs–then local taxpayer money should not be spent under the auspices of “economic development.”  

Tourist development is important, one leg of the stool, but it is not economic development unless it creates permanent, family-wage jobs. 

Let’s insist we call it what it is.

Comment:
AMEN Dale!!!!!! I just discovered your paper. I can say that I have seen this city: Chase away a pellet mill, it went to Aberdeen. Submarine a doctors hospital, ask the Fricks at Angeles Machine Works for details. When Rayoneer gave the city $600K to help find a use for their mill site I suggested that the money be used to advertise in the business trade journals of business' we might want here. I was told by the lady I got on the phone that the city had already decided that tourism was what they wanted.

Name: Rod

I don't know who is behind this  issue but more power to you. This is the same stuff that people write letters to the editor about and which the Daily News is too cowardly or too liberal to take on.  Keep it up. By the way, I almost threw it away when, at first glance, I thought it was an annual report from the Port of Port Angeles.   Ronald J Wasnock
 

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