Economic Development Council chief suggests merger of Port Angeles business groups during Tuesday meeting

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Should the city's three business groups work toward an eventual merger?

Tim Smith, who has been named interim Clallam County Economic Development Council director, proposed forming a six-person ad hoc committee Tuesday that he said should lead to that result.

Smith, who said Tuesday he will sign his EDC contract today, floated the idea of a merger of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Port Angeles Downtown Association and the Port Angeles Business Association at a packed breakfast meeting of the PABA.

The ad hoc committee of two representatives from each group would address “Port Angeles-centric” business issues, Smith added.

“Does it still make sense at this time with this economy to have so many business organizations in our own area?” asked Smith, who also is PABA's vice president.

The breakfast meeting's more than 40 participants included chamber Executive Director Russ Veenema, Peninsula College President Luke Robins and Port of Port Angeles and city of Port Angeles officials, including Mayor Cherie Kidd and city Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West.

No one spoke at the meeting who identified themselves as being from the PADA.

“I want to ask our [PABA] membership if we ought to not invite discussion with our peers in Port Angeles about seeing if there is some way, some alliance, some accord, some measure where business groups in Port Angeles can work for their mutual benefit and not give up on any of the things each of our groups do best,” Smith said.

The goal is “to do things more efficiently, more effectively,” Smith added.

Smith is a former Port Angeles economic development director. He retired from the city in 2004.

During his retirement he has managed family business property in the downtown area.

He will present the proposal to the PABA board at its meeting Monday.

Smith said the group would be “an ad hoc committee to see about developing something that might look like a business plan for a new organization that would be Port Angeles-centric and would represent business interests like they already do but under one common roof.”

The committee would present “a unified message,” he added.

Could Smith's efforts lead to the elimination of the three groups?

“I don't know the answer to that,” Smith responded.

“It will not work if the organizations working on it think they are being diminished.

“There needs to be a value-added component to coming together under a single roof.”

The Chamber of Commerce has proposed merging its efforts with other area business groups since 2003.

In a Nov. 21 letter to the EDC, the chamber suggested joint discussions with the EDC for “a new, strategic and coordinated model” for countywide economic development.

The EDC board did not respond to the letter at its Dec. 19 meeting, though Smith as EDC director will help organize what board members have called “visioning” meetings to discuss collective development efforts.

The chamber has enlisted the assistance of Peninsula College to encourage more collaboration among more than two dozen government and business economic development groups.

To that end, college officials are in talks with Washington State University representatives about bringing representatives of those groups together in one place.

Robins suggested at a Dec. 2 chamber luncheon that the first meeting facilitated by WSU would take place shortly after Jan. 1.

That meeting is still being planned, Robins said Tuesday in an interview.

WSU “is waiting to see what the scope of the meeting or meetings would actually be,” he said.

“There are probably some intermediate meetings that need to take place like the one [Tuesday] at PABA, which was a healthy discussion and kind of helps frame the conversation.”

Veenema suggested that the effort by Peninsula College should proceed on course.

Veenema said Smith's presentation prompted “a healthy discussion” but suggested that limiting the group to Port Angeles organizations was “a little too confining” for the chamber.

“We like to think bigger,” Veenema said.

“We as a chamber and our board have pretty much deferred to Robins and the college to act as a facilitator,” he added.

“I think, right now, for 2014, we should take our time.

“Taking the energy and making a motion to reconfigure the local stuff will take away from what we are trying to do in the bigger picture.

“I don't think that Tim is including enough of Port Angeles local groups, personally.”

Barb Frederick executive director of the PADA, who was not at the meeting Tuesday, said working together is always good.

“There are places where I think it could work and would probably work well in Port Angeles,” she said after she heard of Smith's proposal for the umbrella organization.

“It's always a good thing to work together, and to work more efficiently is not a bad thing at all.”

Some meeting attendees argued that economic development is more successful when pursued with a regional focus.

“Economic development does not just stop at the county's borders,” said Kaj Ahlburg, a retired investment banker and PABA's representative on the EDC board.

“At the end of the day, there needs to be a regional perspective on economic development,” said Jim Haguewood, a management consultant and a former EDC director.

But Andrew May, owner of Mayflower Horticultural Service, cautioned that individual voices should not be lost in a group effort.

“Although we need to find a way to become unified, I would worry we don't diminish these distinct, separate voices, because that is what is going to bring a better consensus,” May said.

Former City Councilman Don Perry, owner of Heritage Tours — he has sat on various boards, including the EDC and the chamber — cautioned that no matter what kind of meeting or meetings result from Smith's proposal, it should not end up as simply talk.

“If we do something, we should make sure it's not just a meeting,” Perry said.

“I've sat in too many meetings,” he added, “just to see it die on the vine.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 08. 2014 7:41AM
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