Economic development agencies ponder merger possibilities in Clallam

Peninsula Daily News

'Opportunity to engage in discussions'

EXCERPTS FROM TWO letters about how to best engage in economic/business development in Clallam County and the North Olympic Peninsula:

—   Nov. 5 letter by Luke Robins, president of Peninsula College, to his fellow members of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce board of directors and chamber Executive Director Russ Veenema:

“The election of a new port commissioner, the transition of the current director of Clallam Economic Development and discussion surrounding the development of the Olympics Composites Corridor and ongoing SBDC [state Small Business Development Center], services on the Peninsula have combined to create the opportunity to take a hard look at economic development activities in light of these transitions.

“I would respectfully submit that we need to engage in a wide ranging, 'courageous conversation' about the current state of our efforts, the roles of the various groups engaged in such efforts (EDC, chamber, Port, City, County, etc.), and how we might work more efficiently and effectively to create a vision for the economic future of our region . . .”

—   Nov. 21 letter from the PA chamber board to the EDC board:

“The Chamber Board of Directors understands that the Clallam County EDC is entering a period of transition due to the recently announced resignation of the executive director.

“We believe this change presents an opportunity to engage in discussions between the Chamber, EDC and other organizations to explore a new, strategic and coordinated model for these efforts.

“We recognize that a coordinated and regional approach is the best way to maximize efficiencies towards effective and meaningful outcomes for economic development in Clallam County.

“. . . [The PA board] is requesting that the EDC Board consider beginning a dialogue between our organizations, and creating an ad hoc committee focused on the goal of improving our collective regional effectiveness.

“We know there will be additional agencies, organizations and individuals that will want to be involved with this exploration, and would encourage their participation.

“Peninsula College and the WSU Extension office in Clallam County have offered their resources towards these efforts . . .”

Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — Should the Clallam County Economic Development Council merge with the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce?

No one is recommending that — yet.

And no one is willing to talk about it for the record with the Peninsula Daily News.

And since nothing is being formally proposed, how a merger would sit with other business groups and local governments in Clallam County, including the chambers of commerce and city officials in Sequim and Forks, is unknown.

But the subject of a merger is being discussed — behind the scenes — across the county.

And tip-toe steps forward will be taken Monday when the Port Angeles chamber's meeting at the Red Lion Hotel will feature a panel discussion with this as its subject:

“Are we satisfied with the current economic development state of affairs on the Olympic Peninsula, or are there opportunities for better collaboration of efforts?”

Panelists will be First Federal President and CEO Larry Hueth, Peninsula College President Luke Robins, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Allen and Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce President Brian Kuh.

Kuh is also the first vice president of the EDC for 2013 and incoming president for 2014.

Tickets for the luncheon, which is expected to last beyond the normal 1 p.m. meeting-ending time, are $15 and can be purchased from the meeting room cashier.

Robins, a member of the boards of directors of both the EDC and chamber, had suggested “a wide-ranging, courageous conversation” about local economic development in a Nov. 5 letter to chamber Executive Director Russ Veenema and Robins' fellow chamber directors.

The chamber's board also wrote the EDC's board on Nov. 21, suggesting “a new, strategic and coordinated model” for countywide economic development.

(There has been no response as of yet from the EDC board.)

With just under 500 members, the PA chamber's mission statement says it is “the voice for business and the greater community of our region focused on; business development, tourism, economic vitality and quality of life.”

Its website adds:

“As the chamber of commerce, we concentrate our marketing efforts within the natural boundary made up of Crescent Lake to the west, and Sequim Bay to the east.”

EDC Executive Director Linda Rotmark announced in October that she will retire at the end of this year after 8 years at the helm of the Port Angles-based nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization that has been assisting with business development (including attracting new businesses) in Clallam County since 1985.

(In Jefferson County, economic development is vested largely in three separate groups — Team Jefferson, an economic development group that “initiates and facilitates collaborative projects and partnerships that create sustainable prosperity for Jefferson County”; the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, also a countywide group, and the Port Townsend Main Street Program.)

“Clallam EDC acts as a portal to an expansive network of business contacts, tools, and solutions for both our public and private businesses,” the EDC says at its website.

“We also provide an extensive range of services in cooperation with state and local governments, Peninsula College, Washington State University's Small Business Development Center and the Small Business Administration's SCORE business advisory program.

“Some of the areas in which the EDC can assist are [business] site identification and selection; business expansion and retention support; workforce training information and programs; intergovernmental coordination for large complex projects; business planning and financing; assistance with securing incentives; exporting services and funding; and manufacturing consultants.”

How effective has the Clallam EDC been?

The group rarely publicizes its activities, often citing confidentiality agreements with businesses and local governments.

But last week, Clallam County officials, which have budgeted $30,000 next year as part of the annual funding for the EDC, said they won't renew the contact until the EDC charts a new course.

EDC received $147,000 from its funding partners for 2013 — $50,000 from the state; $30,000 from the county; $25,000 from the Port of Port Angeles; $15,000 each from the city of Port Angeles and Olympic Medical Center; $5,000 from city of Sequim; and $7,000 from city of Forks.

County Commissioner and EDC board member Jim McEntire said the future of the EDC will be discussed at the EDC's next board meeting Dec. 19.

“I know there's going to be an extensive discussion about who it should be and what are the attributes of the next executive director,” McEntire said at Tuesday's Board of County Commissioners meeting.

“Prior to that, I think we need kind of an extensive sit-down amongst all the members of the EDC to recast, recalibrate, affirm, deny, whatever it is that the EDC is to do, how it's to do it and how it's structured.”

At the direction of the three commissioners, county Administrator Jim Jones said he informed the EDC that “while we have the funding allocated in the budget, we're not signing the contract until the end result of the discussion occurs.”

McEntire added: “We need to know who we're signing the contract with.”

Sequim officials questioned the value of the EDC during Monday night's City Council session.

Included in the $55.3 million budget is another $5,000 for membership in the EDC for 2014.

City Manager Steve Burkett suggested the council approve the budget item — but said the city should review the value it receives from the EDC before signing a new contract with the EDC.

The money could be spent if the city renews its contract but wouldn't have to be if the city opts out.

“It's a small item in the scheme of things, but I think it makes a statement that we need to take a look at what we're getting for our money,” Burkett said.

Burkett said the city wants a better picture of what is going to happen with the EDC's leadership,

“Before we enter into a contract for next year, we want to be involved in a discussion about what is the mission of the EDC,” he said.

In addition to the EDC, Port Angeles city officials are also examining agreements it has the chamber and the Port Angeles Downtown Association.

The three groups received a total of $409,000 from city coffers in 2013.

“City Council very much wants to see performance objectives with any funding that they're providing to the various economic development and tourism-related activities,” said Port Angeles City Manager Dan McKeen.

“And a lot of people feel we need to re-examine all the different agencies involved in those activities.”

For 2013, the city budgeted $309,000 for the Chamber of Commerce, $85,000 for the downtown association and $15,000 for the EDC.

Among the possibilities discussed by McKeen are $20,000 less than in 2013 for the downtown association and withholding $189,500 of a total $309,000 planned for the chamber until it delivers a marketing plan for 2014.

“The chamber is prepared for whatever we're asked to do,” Veenema told the PDN in an interview last month.

McKeen did not make a specific recommendation regarding the EDC.

“The council would need to make a decision whether they want to take $15,000 out of the [city's] economic development fund to commit to fund the EDC [in 2014],” McKeen said.

Councilwoman Sissi Bruch said she would like to see the $409,000 the city has paid to these economic development groups diverted to other city responsibilities, such as improving Civic Field at Third and Race streets.

Last modified: December 01. 2013 11:10AM
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