Clallam and Jefferson county commissioners tentatively agreed to work together on a joint application for federal grants that will be available later this year in hopes that the cooperative effort will increase the region’s competitiveness.
The Distressed Area Recompete Pilot Program — known as the Recompete Program — will provide $200 million for “interventions that spur economic activity in geographically diverse and persistently distressed communities,” according to the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the agency administering the grants.
“We have this great opportunity as a region to identify some causes and come up with a solution,” said Jefferson County District 1 Commissioner Kate Dean. “We need to do this as a region. Individual cities or counties are not going to be as competitive.”
At a joint meeting between the Clallam and Jefferson county boards of commissioners on Monday, commissioners agreed to establish a task force with representatives from both counties that would help guide the application process.
Karen Affeld, executive director of the North Olympic Development Council, an economic advisory group that covers both counties, agreed to help run the task force, and commissioners said representatives would be chosen soon.
The task force and the plan to file a joint application were not formalized by a motion of either board but was verbally agreed upon by all six commissioners.
The program is meant to spur economic development in areas experiencing a high prime-age employment gap, where workers ages 25-54 have stopped looking for jobs and left the labor force, not just those who are currently unemployed.
At the meeting, commissioners, county staff and representatives from economic development councils discussed what kinds of projects could be put forward that would help the entire region and be competitive for the limited number of grants that will be awarded nationwide.
Colleen McAleer, executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council, and Cindy Brooks, executive director for EDC Team Jefferson, gave a joint presentation on Clallam County’s Natural Resources Innovation Center, a project aimed at bolstering the forest products industry on the Peninsula.
That program received a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Commerce earlier this year which Clallam EDC hopes to use to help develop local innovative forest products businesses. McAleer said in May the NRIC could also be used to apply for the Recompete Program.
Commissioners said they were excited about the NRIC but said there are other industries and sectors on the Peninsula that need to be addressed as well.
“I think we need to take some time to listen and to understand,” said Clallam County District 1 Commissioner Mark Ozias. “In order to build this out, there need to be other pieces.”
The need for housing was a top priority for both counties, and McAleer said several industries have said they have well-paying jobs they’re unable to fill due to a lack of housing. However, Affeld noted housing isn’t something the EDA has traditionally funded, even if housing is needed to spur economic development.
On Tuesday, Affeld and the NODC will hold a meeting with local community leaders, businesses and tribal representatives to gather additional ideas for what could be used on a Recompete Program application. Commissioners also discussed the possibility of hiring a consultant to help the region with its application.
The application process for Phase 1 of the program — which will provide strategy development grant funding between $250,000 to $500,000, and in rare cases up to $750,000 — opened June 29 and closes Oct. 5 at midnight. Projects that are already ready for funding can be approved in Phase 1 as well, but they won’t be funded until the next phase.
Phase 2 — which will provide an average of $20 million to $50 million per region for between three and eight complementary projects — will launch this winter, according to EDA.
Both Clallam and Jefferson counties are eligible for the pilot program, as are Mason, Grays Harbor and Island counties.
According to EDA’s eligibility map, Clallam County has a prime-age population of just less than 23,000 with an employment rate for that group of 72.4 percent and a prime-age employment gap of 6 percent.
Jefferson County has a prime-age population of more than 9,000 with a 67.5 percent employment rate and a prime-age employment gap of 11 percent.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor — who represents the Olympic Peninsula and part of Tacoma — introduced the Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People to Excel, or RECOMPETE Act, in 2021. Its provisions were later incorporated into the 2022 Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act, or CHIPS and Science Act, as a pilot program.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.