PORT TOWNSEND — In intense discussions, first in a morning workshop and then in an afternoon meeting, the Port of Port Townsend Commission wrangled with a potential new role: powering business growth across Jefferson County.
“Ports can do almost anything they want to do for economic development,” said Frank Chmelik of Chmelik, Sitkin & Davis, the Bellingham law firm the Port Commission brought to last Wednesday’s workshop.
The three commissioners, along with port Executive Director Eron Berg, are eyeing a state Department of Commerce designation as the county’s associate development organization (ADO).
The role, which currently belongs to EDC Team Jefferson, comes with just $50,000 per year in state funding, so the port would seek additional money from local governments, Berg said.
The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners has the final word in designating the ADO, and it must do so by mid-April, following the port commission’s request.
Port officials, however, don’t yet agree on how to proceed.
After listening to a presentation about the Port of Walla Walla’s economic development work, commissioner Pam Petranek cautioned her fellow officials against a decision made too quickly.
“We would need to get a plan in place before we take it over,” she said, “or work towards that.”
Petranek added that the port’s staff already has its hands full with daily operations — at the Boat Haven marina and yard, Point Hudson Marina and RV Park, Jefferson County International Airport and Quilcene Marina.
Port Commissioner Bill Putney said the status quo must change, and soon.
With the April deadline for the funding from the state — and its two-year budget cycle — he wants to see an ADO that serves the entire county, recruiting, supporting and retaining businesses.
This future ADO could be the port alone, or some combination of Team Jefferson, the port and other county governments.
So the port commission opted to bring the issue back for more discussion at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. March 24. That will give the county commissioners just enough time to decide on the designation, Berg said.
He and the port commissioners are part of Jefferson County’s Intergovernmental Collaborative Group, which also has representatives of the Port Townsend City Council, Jefferson County Public Utilities District and the county Board of Commissioners.
That group should have a chance to create an economic development framework, Petranek said.
The port shouldn’t rush into it alone, she added.
“We have this boat that just came into the yard; we’ve taken a couple planks off, it doesn’t look very good, we’re not sure what to do with it yet,” she said of the ADO role.
Brian Kuh, executive director of EDC Team Jefferson, and Ben Bauermeister, its board president, attended the port commission’s Wednesday sessions.
“We got a lot of valuable insight,” Kuh said.
He and Bauermeister emphasized that their organization has formed yet another group, the “public sector cabinet,” to include local government officials.
“It’s a reboot,” he said, that will add representatives from the port, city, county and PUD.
The county commissioners are expected to be briefed today on the role of an ADO and discuss the process of designating one.
Kuh added that, during the past year, EDC Team Jefferson has logged hundreds of interactions with businesses as they looked for a path forward.
He listed other EDC Team Jefferson activities: working with the Local Investment Opportunity Network (LION), the Housing Solutions Network and the North Olympic Legislative Alliance.
Talks with the staff of U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, whose 6th congressional district includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, are ongoing as more economic stimulus money becomes available, Kuh said.
“It’s going to be hot and heavy,” he said.
“We’re ready for another busy year.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]