Economic development: The way forward by Kathryn Grosz

Republished from February 2017.

Economic Development is important.  But what does it mean?  Where is a strategic plan that identifies the needs of the county, sets goals, and outlines strategies to meet these goals– including a justification for its goals?

Economic development can be: bringing in new businesses and good paying jobs to Clallam County; helping existing businesses survive and expand; providing training on how to start a business, how to evaluate likelihood of succeed, how to assess the cost and predict profits.

Economic development can include job training, but will those trained leave for jobs elsewhere?  If they leave, was the Clallam County taxpayer money wasted?  Economic development includes a good education allowing our students to attend top rated colleges.  

Does it include making sure there are top rated jobs for college graduates to return to, or do we accept exporting our young people year after year?

Perhaps economic development is making sure that infrastructure exists to service businesses: roads, bridges, water, electric, sewage treatment, air and sea transportation.  

Economic development includes determining what kinds of businesses are the right fit for Sequim, Port Angeles, Forks and the unincorporated spaces.  Is it agriculture, manufacturing, retail, recreational, hotels, or other?  What size, how much, etc.?

As reported in the November POC:  2016 public funding totaling almost $300,000 was spent by the county commissioners, the city councils, the port, and the hospital–intended for economic development.  All this funding went to the EDC intended to bring investment and new jobs.  

It was a valiant try, but it did not work.  There were goals set, but they were not realistic.  Our taxpayers, citizens, youth, and funding entities deserve more.

Instead of continuing to fund a failing effort, we need to stop this train and take a long and hard look at what we want, what we need, what is realistic, and how we can get there.  Just throwing taxpayer money at a problem, without specific detailed steps to achieve the goal, will not work.  What does this county need, can it be achieved, how?

We need businesses that do not use a lot of water, businesses that can ship things in and out via the port, businesses that use local lumber and create high end products to ship around the world.  Our county needs jobs of the caliber of our high school and college graduates.  Jobs in which they can not just fill–but excel–while making a decent wage sufficient to raise a family here in Clallam County.

Strategic Planning Required

Who should be developing this strategic plan?  We need professionals to develop the plan–with input from stakeholders having a history of developing effective economic development plans.

Who are the real stake holders that should be represented?  Are they just business owners who have an interest in keeping wages low?  No.  The stake holders are:  students whose future the plan is aimed to support; families who need living wage jobs; families who want jobs so their graduating children do not have to move away to work; medical providers that need patients with wages and insurance that can support the cost of the medical services provided; business that need customers with disposable income to spend; retirees who move here and need services; retirees that need jobs; county and city government that need income to support services; farmers; animal growers; etc.

My suggestion is that no more funding be given to the EDC for its failed 5-year plan.  Instead, funding should be directed to developing a Strategic Economic Development plan that identifies the specific needs and achievable goals of all these stakeholders.  The stakeholders must be included in the plan’s development.  

The Strategic Economic Development Plan must have specific steps to be taken to achieve those goals.  It must have specific ways to measure progress.  It must have plans A, B, and C.  If something is not working:  why isn’t it working; can it be adjusted. If not, try plan B.

The strategic plan needs to separate the goals into fundable packages that include specifications that must be met by any entity applying for funding.  There may be more than one entity working to achieve different parts of the plan.  If one entity is going to work to bring in new businesses, then it probably should not also be providing day-to-day help to existing businesses.  That can be done by a different entity.  It is too easy to divert efforts to the easy day-to-day housekeeping efforts supporting existing businesses, and not focus on the hard parts of the plan.

After there is a real strategic plan with goals that have a chance of being achieved, only then should funding be advanced to hire staff to implement the strategies identified to make economic development happen.  There should be multiple entities vying for the chance to carry out the strategic plan.  There may be multiple entities funded.  

Simply saying we will bring in 500 jobs and $100 million in investment, with no basis for those numbers and without identifying the size, kind, location, and impact of what you are trying to achieve, is not a workable plan.  It must have goals with specific strategies to reach those goals.

Hire a professional to work with all the stakeholders and get an achievable plan.

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