By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Addressing the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce's weekly luncheon, which Monday was almost standing-room-only with about 150 participants, were First Federal President and CEO Larry Hueth, Peninsula College President Luke Robins and chamber President Brian Kuh.
But while the panelists spoke about a desire to hold a countywide “community meeting” early in 2014 to get input, they did not directly address a possible merger between the Port Angeles chamber and the county Economic Development Council.
The chamber's board of directors sent a Nov. 21 letter to the EDC board suggesting joint discussions for “a new, strategic and coordinated model” for countywide economic development.
The EDC board will discuss the letter at its Dec. 19 meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center in Port Angeles.
Randy Johnson was at Monday's packed chamber luncheon in the Red Lion Hotel.
At separate times he has been president of the EDC and Port Angeles chamber, the two most powerful business associations in the county.
“There needs to be more collaboration [among economic-development groups],” said Johnson, a current EDC board member and president of Port Angeles-based Green Crow Timberland Investment and Management Services.
“How it's all put together, I can't answer that.”
Economic development “is more encompassing that just the chamber and the EDC,” he added.
What about the two organizations merging?
“I don't know if that's the right framework or the wrong framework,” Johnson responded.
Ron Allen, Jamestown S'Klallam tribal chairman, was to have been on the panel but bowed out because of a scheduling conflict.
Robins, noting the Peninsula College's economic impact on the community, is enlisting the help of Washington State University Extension Service to bring together the community and economic leaders.
Robins said the meeting after Jan. 1 will likely be the first of several held to reach the goal of better coordination on economic development efforts.
He predicted that representatives from many of the county's 26 economic development groups (listed on the back of the chamber flier that was on every luncheon table) would meet after Jan. 1 to begin to lay out a new course.
The community, he said, needs “to develop a common vision and a set of strategic goals that we can all pursue together,” said Robins, a member of both the EDC and chamber boards.
“Lacking that, we are going to continue to have fragmented efforts across our respective entities, and it is going to be difficult for us to leverage the resources we have in an effective and efficient manner.
“I don't know what organizational model might be best.
“It may be what we already have, with more effective roles and collaboration, and maybe we'll start over,” Robins added.
Discussions about possible changes in the EDC were prompted after Linda Rotmark, the nonprofit agency's executive director for almost nine years, announced last fall that she is retiring at the end of this month.
Rotmark did not attend Monday's luncheon, but she told the Peninsula Daily News later that she heard there was good discussion.
That discussion was “timely,” she said, because of impending changes in EDC leadership.
Kuh, the chamber's president, is the incoming 2014 president of the EDC.
In addition, the EDC, which received $147,000 from the state and local-government funding partners in 2013, is facing new one-year renewal of those contracts — and Clallam County and the cities of Port Angeles and Sequim say they have questions about the EDC's aims and achievements.
With funding partners for economic development groups “asking about metrics and deliverables, now is the time to have this conversation,” Robins said.
“It has to go beyond Port Angeles,” he added. “It has to include Forks, Sequim, the native tribes.”
The chamber board, in its Nov. 21 letter to the EDC board, suggested the groups form an ad-hoc committee “focused on the goal of improving our collective regional effectiveness.”
After the luncheon, Kuh said a merger between the chamber and EDC is “a potential outcome” of efforts in 2014 to improve economic development coordination.
“It's definitely been brought up in the past,” he said.
“It's been the elephant in the room for many years.
“What's clear is that we are moving the dialogue further into what the community can benefit from by having a local, county and regional strategy.
“An economic development strategy of whether there are combined or merged organizations that could include the EDC, the chamber and other entities could be a result of that.
“There are numerous examples in rural Washington of folks engaged in that type of outcome.”
During his presentation at the luncheon, Hueth decried recent losses in private-sector jobs in the county and said a review of how tax dollars are spent for economic development was a good idea.
“I'm very optimistic about where we are going,” he said.
“Every organization needs to continue to examine its performance,” Hueth said, noting that the financial services industry is continuing a trend of consolidation.
“What the chamber is doing today is what every successful enterprise around the country is doing,” he added.
“We need to look at a regional plan” that includes “key performance indicators,” Hueth added.
“We do need a plan, and we need to all agree in the participation and creation of it.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.