PORT TOWNSEND — Port of Port Townsend and Jefferson County commissioners are seeking a new, more collaborative approach to developing the local economy.
The port commission is taking a step back from its stance of two weeks ago, when it planned to formally seek designation as the county’s associate development organization, or ADO.
The designation would have had the port stepping into a lead role in economic development: a major change after EDC Team Jefferson’s 14 years in the ADO position.
Team Jefferson has a single staffer, executive director Brian Kuh, and a volunteer board led by Ben Bauermeister. Its 2021 budget totals some $148,000, $128,000 of which comes from Jefferson County and the state Department of Commerce.
The county commissioners, who met March 15, signaled an interest in keeping the ADO designation as is — while revisiting Team Jefferson’s service model.
In the wake of that meeting, Port of Port Townsend Executive Director Eron Berg sent a letter to the commissioners:
“I am recommending to the Port Commission that the Port of Port Townsend discontinue seeking the ADO designation,” he wrote.
“This will represent a shift from the Port seeking to lead the countywide economic development mission (i.e., providing a single-entry point/umbrella organization for economic development opportunities) to the Port serving as a supporter and collaborator.”
In its meeting last Wednesday, the port commission unanimously affirmed Berg’s letter. But Team Jefferson, said district 3 commissioner Pete Hanke, should begin to show “serious results” from its efforts.
The ADO needs to start producing “real dollars,” as in industry development, jobs and tax revenue for the county.
Jefferson County district 1 Commissioner Kate Dean, in an email to the Peninsula Daily News, said she wants to see EDC Team Jefferson work more closely with county elected officials and business leaders.
“The EDC has been operating with little direction and input from local governments,” Dean said, “and it shows. We have no shared vision of what we want the County to look like in 10-20 years. How can we pull in the same direction if we haven’t even decided what direction we are going?”
Port commissioner Pam Petranek expressed her appreciation for the wording in Berg’s letter to the county commissioners:
“Shifting from the ‘who’ will perform the work of the ADO to ‘what’ work will be done and ‘how’ that work will be done should be captured in a multi-party agreement that includes the County, City, PUD, Port and EDC Team Jefferson,” the letter said.
Petranek suggested holding a workshop, perhaps with Jefferson County’s Intergovernmental Collaborative Group, this spring. The ICG includes representatives from the port, the county Board of Commissioners, the Port Townsend City Council and the county Public Utilities District.
The port commission itself has its next workshop meeting set for 9:30 a.m. April 14 and a regular meeting at 1 p.m. the same day.
Dean, for her part, said she’d like to see better tracking of economic data — and new initiatives, such as innovative financing to keep businesses from folding when the owners retire.
“I’d like to see the EDC be working on efforts to expand childcare capacity in the county,” Dean added, “and to provide technical assistance for anyone trying to build workforce housing.
“All of this is way more than the EDC can currently do. So we need to figure out how to fund more staff time and leverage volunteers to do this work.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]