KEDA breakfast forecasts local economic development

What’s ahead for economic development in Kitsap County and from where will the skilled workforce of tomorrow come? These were the questions laid on the table, alongside the hundreds of plates piled with eggs, bacon, sausage and fresh fruit, during the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance’s 2020 Economic Forecast Breakfast.

Hart Hodges, of Western Washington University’s Center for Economic & Business Research, likened 2020’s national and regional economic forecast as being a combination of the movie Groundhog Day with a touch of the Netflix series Stranger Things. Beside Hodges on the stage — and often providing some light comic relief — was James McCafferty, who co-directs WWU’s Center for Economic & Business Research alongside Hodges.

“Part of the reason I say Groundhog Day is because [last year] I stood right over there and said, ‘the numbers look good, but I’m worried,’” Hodges said. “If you trust in numbers, you’ve got a relatively positive economic outlook. If you want my opinion … I’m nervous, I see a slowdown.” The Stranger Things element of 2020’s forecast, Hodges said, came from the seemingly incongruous economic growth, despite rising debt.

“If you go back decades and decades, we used to have recessions fairly frequently,” Hodges said. “in the last couple of decades, every time we have started to move into a recession, there was a policy response, typically increasing the debt.”

“It’s as if no one cares anymore about deficits or debt,” he added. “We really don’t know where this is going to take us.”

With a decidedly less ominous and slightly more uplifting tone was Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA 6th District) who lauded what he regarded as some of Kitsap’s strongest drivers for economic development in the year ahead.

“I have visited schools all over this county and we are so lucky, just last week I visited Central Kitsap High School,” Kilmer gushed. “They’re at the cutting edge of career-connected learning using contemporary equipment to give their students the tools that they need to thrive.”

Computer numerical control (CNC) machining, lab sciences and even flight simulation training, Kilmer said, were all being offered up to students as part of equipping the workforce of tomorrow with a strong foundation of knowledge today.

“They have flight simulators which are awesome — and another example of why I shouldn’t quit my day job,” the congressman joked. “The investments we are making in educating young people will pay off in jobs and skilled workers and economic vitality down the road.”

Olympic College’s president Marty Cavalluzzi did not make it through Kilmer’s time on the stage without receiving some attention for what the congressman called “extraordinary leadership.”

“OC has become ground zero for building that productive workforce that will power our economic growth.” he continued.

“They have A+ partnerships with schools like WSU and [Western Washington University],” Kilmer said before noting his appreciation for WWU President Sabah Randhawa’s presence at the breakfast. “We’re working on legislation right now to expand financial aid so more students can get open to that door of economic opportunity.”

Kilmer also drew attention to one of the region’s largest employers, the Navy.

“We are so lucky to have the Navy as a great neighbor and a great employer here in Kitsap County. Keyport, Bangor and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard: not just our county’s largest employers, they are doing vitally important work,” he said. “The Navy supports private industry throughout this county and we have talented contractors that are investing too.”

“We are anticipating, literally, billions of dollars in military construction funding coming to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the years ahead as part of the Navy’s Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program.”

In his closing remarks, Kilmer thanked those in the room for doing business in Kitsap County.

“I could go through this room and talk about the employers — big and small — and talk about the extraordinary contributions you are making in this community,” Kilmer said. “Thank you for employing people here, it matters. Thank you for supporting KEDA and its efforts to give you more company here in Kitsap County.”

Editors Note: Terry Ward, Vice President of Sound Publishing, is also a member of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance’s board of directors.