The Economic Development Charade is Over, opinion by Dale Wilson

Republished from June 2016

For at least the past decade the term “Economic Development” has been bandied about in support of every hare-brained idea that someone thought up to move the local elected officials to fund something or other.  

Let’s start with Harbor Works.  What a colossal failure.  This was promoted extensively by the then city council of Port Angeles as the new and different idea that was to bring economic prosperity to the community.  Didn’t happen.  They blew through over one million dollars attempting to sell something they didn’t own to a public that had no interest.

Then there’s the “International Gateway Center.  Once again it was sold as the answer to our economic development woes.  They built a glorified pole-barn, paved a few parking lots and bought up land from a few cronies and stuck the taxpayers with a $15 million price tag.  Trouble is, when calculating the value of the building, add in the value of the sweetheart land deals, you still come up with only $6.5 Million in value.  Where did the other $8,000,000 go? 

This is a gift that keeps on taking.  The city is now faced with a  $1,000,000 balloon payment on the Niichtel property which was a known toxic waste clean up site when the city bought it.  The city had no plans for it when they purchased it and no need for it in the grand scheme of the Gateway Center.  

Then there’s the Business Incubator Project.  Supposed to create a Trump University type environment where all the uber-successful people in the community would woo and train would-be entrepreneurs so they could start and run their own companies.  After blowing through $8 million they shut out the lights and stuck the taxpayers with $750,000 in leftover debt.  This we are repaying at the rate of $48,000 per year.

Now let’s move over to the decade of gifting the local Chamber of Commerce with $4.5 million of taxpayer money to market the area to feckless tourists.  Every few months the chamber’s representative would come before the city council, tell them all the great things they were doing with this tax money but never showing any actual metrics whereby success could be measured.  Of the several such presentations to city council they mostly went like this: “we took the money, we spent it, we did some good things with it, give us some more.” 

The city council showed little or no curiosity about the actual results as long as they were told something good was happening with the money.  Trouble is the merchants who were supposed to be enjoying the results of this spending were not realizing any results.  In fact, in the ten years the city council kept plying the chamber with funding not one lodging organization enjoyed even 50% capacity in any of the ten years of this charade.

Operating in the background of all these schemes is the Economic Development Council/Corporation which has promised the residents that prosperity is just around the corner so long as they keep receiving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to prop up the membership organizations who joined the EDC.

What has the community gained from the EDC? 

Recently, at a lunch meeting with EDC Executive Director, Bill Greenwood Port O Call asked Greenwood to name one company that had hired even one new employee as a direct result of EDC efforts.  Greenwood looked away, looked up at the ceiling, wiped his face with both hands and, after a 30 second pause, reminiscent of Sarah Palin when asked what magazines she reads, Greenwood blurted out, “all of them.”

In a report to the members Greenwood stated that half the EDC budget went to purchase ads in the Canadian-owned newspaper.  Some of these ads promoting the member businesses of the EDC and others promoting the various school bond issues that make it on the ballot regularly–all failing.

Strangely two full page color ads were placed in the foreign-owned paper to urge businesses to “buy local.”  No kidding.

The Rubes are onto you

Here’s a note to anyone who mentions “Economic Development” in effort to gain traction for their new scam.  The rubes are onto you now.  No longer can you dupe the city councils and the county commission to buy into your scam.  No longer will we willingly allow the various jurisdictions to throw good money after bad. It has been shown the EDC’s primary goal is to keep out competitive businesses and to keep local wages as low as possible.

Note to the EDC: If you want to run an Economic Development Council/Corporation then go fund yourself.  Your officers and members have much more discretionary cash on hand than does the city of Port Angeles or the County of Clallam.  If you want to run a public relations firm to promote your members–do it with your own cash and leave the taxpayers out of it.  If the future is to be divined from the past–we have nothing to gain. 

Randy Johnson, owner of Green Crow Timber and a member of the board of  EDC, shelled out over $100,000 to promote Republican candidates and causes.  If he has that much discretionary cash available then he can fund the EDC and keep the taxpayers out of it.  Johnson is now running as an “independent” candidate for county commissioner.

Instead of continuing taxpayer support for this moribund agency support should be given to North Olympic Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development agency.  They actually get things done, improve the infrastructure on the peninsula and deliver on their promises.  Many of the same people are on the board of both the NOP RC&D and the EDC so they know where the redundancies exist and are in the best position to choose the one actually doing something for the community.  Let the EDC fund its own public relations while NOP RC&D creates jobs and improves the region.

Port O Call urges an advisory poll be placed on the November ballot to allow the voters to decide if they want to continue funding the EDC with taxpayer dollars.  If the county commissioners need political cover to shut off this waste of taxpayer dollars then the community can certainly weigh in on the decision at the next election.  

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