Federal grant would increase employment

Coalition aims to reduce persistent poverty

PORT ANGELES — North Olympic Peninsula Recompete Coalition members could find out this winter whether their’s will be among the 20 coalitions selected as part of the Distressed Area Recompete Pilot Program championed by U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District.

“This was a huge undertaking. Thank you to everyone who sent letters of support,” Clallam County Commissioner Mike French said during Wednesday morning’s Coffee with Colleen program of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.

“What started this was Derek growing up here,” French said, referring to the Gig Harbor Democrat being a native of Port Angeles.

Kilmer — 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.

The coalition, which is being led by Clallam County, consists of the five North Olympic Peninsula tribes (Makah, Hoh, Jamestown S’Klallam, Quileute and Lower Elwha Klallam), Jefferson County, Peninsula College, the ports of Port Angeles and Port Townsend, all four Peninsula cities (Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Sequim and Forks) economic development councils in both counties, Olympic Peninsula YMCA, North Olympic Development Council, Composite Recycling Technology Center, Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, Olympic Natural Resource Center, Olympic Workforce Development Council, and Center for Sustainable Infrastructure.

French said the coalition’s application is targeted at the 25-54 age group in the two counties.

“How do we get them back into the workforce? This is a pilot project. We want to get them back into the workforce. The (Economic Development Administration) wants to find archetypes. We are losing natural resources and forestry jobs the same as the Midwest is losing manufacturing jobs,” he said.

The Distressed Area Recompete Pilot Program — authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act — will invest $200 million toward interventions that spur economic activity in geographically diverse and persistently distressed communities across the country.

The objective is reducing persistent poverty by moving people ages 25-54 into the labor market and successful employment at good wages, which is defined on the North Olympic Peninsula as $26 per hour plus benefits.

According to the Economic Development Administration’s website, being selected for “Recompete Plan approval” is only the first phase and doesn’t come with funding. The agency expects to make four to eight grant averaging $20 million in the second phase.

Colleen McAleer, executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council, wrote in a Wednesday afternoon email that second “notice of funding opportunity” is expected to be published in the winter, but it may not be published at the same time as phase one applicants are notified they have been selected. They expect to have three to six months to respond to phase two.

French said, “We felt data would be an important part of this process. It’s part of the (Economic Development Administration’s) scoring. How well do you understand your situation?”

That upfront data work informed the coalition’s strategy and made a good narrative, he said.

McAleer said, “Sixty-three hundred people aged 25-54 not in the workforce is the norm. We have 10,000 people in two counties. That’s 2,700 too many. That’s who we are targeting.”

According to a PowerPoint presentation from the Economic Development Council and Olympus Consulting of Port Angeles, the two drivers of persistent poverty in Clallam and Jefferson counties are the loss of forest products industry jobs between 1990 and 2020 that put downward pressure on overall wages and increasing dependence upon part-time and seasonal employment to make up for those job losses.

In 1990, Clallam County’s average wages were 81 percent of the statewide average but only 60 percent by 2020. In Jefferson County, average wages fell from 74 percent of the statewide average to 63 percent.

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Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at brian.gawley@peninsuladailynews.com.

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