The state is a global leader in innovation, and “we have to make sure we don’t lose the edge we have,” a state official said last week at the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance’s annual meeting.
Chris Green, director of the state Department of Commerce, said first it was forestry, then airlines and now technology. The next big thing will be to bring coalitions together, such as the public sector, academics and capital, to grow businesses. The federal government is providing more money for that kind of work, he said.
He said they want to work on their value system, which includes diversity, equity and inclusion, so “everybody has the same access to economy.” And Green said they want to continue to help small businesses recover from COVID-19. “It’s really important work,” he said, adding they gave out grants and low-interest loans to “keep people afloat.”
Stephanie Scott, innovation cluster accelerator program director, said they want to guide existing systems to support each other. “Collaboration just doesn’t naturally happen,” she said.
Scott said there are nine businesses in their first innovative cluster and the state is helping them overcome barriers, find new markets and attract talent. They also provide funding, leadership, support, networking, communications and marketing.
• Washington Autonomous Vehicle: Led by KEDA, advancing unpiloted vehicles and growing need for waterborne craft.
• Sustainable Aerospace Technologies: Advancing global fight against climate change through development of electrified and hydrogen-powered aviation.
• Washington VERTical: Transition to clean, renewable energy through nuclear power.
• Enterprise Digital Growth Ecosystem: Using digital to transform agriculture, energy and utilities, health care, manufacturing and transportation, and logistics.
• Clean Tech: Decarbonize human-made structures, energy and transportation, and places where people work.
• Consortium for Hydrogen and Renewable Generated E-fuels: Using hydrogen to decarbonize heavy transport aviation and shipping to reduce reliance on non-renewable fuel.
• Evergreen Bioscience: Be a magnet for attracting many types of businesses related to medical.
• Pacific Northwest Aerospace: Advancing this industry through many types of innovation.
“Their dream teams are far from complete,” Scott said.
Hart Hodges of Western Washington University’s Center for Economic & Business Research said many are afraid the Fed will raise rates and turn the economy into a recession. Looking ahead, predictions are a mortgage on a 30-year home loan will be 4.4 percent next year and 5.4 percent the following one.
He said nobody wants to work anymore. He called it, “The Great Resignation. Quits are at an all-time high right now.”
That’s because it’s easy to find another job. Hodges said it’s not surprising that many age 65 and older folks are no longer working, but a “mysteriously large chunk of Gen Z isn’t working.”
Featured speaker Skylar Olsen, head economist at Tomo on Bainbridge Island, said the economy is at a turning point. “It’s been a crazy and wild experience with the economy,” she said. Olsen added that the future is uncertain with a new COVID variant just when people thought they were “getting out of this.”
She said the future of the workforce is changing, with only 40 percent of workers back in offices, making remote working more relevant. Olsen said inflation has been a “traumatic experience for a lot of shoppers” at 8 percent, the highest in 40 years. Unemployment is only 4.3 percent, but that doesn’t include many people who are out of the labor force altogether.
While office, construction, and transportation and warehousing are doing well, manufacturing, and accommodations and food service are still way down.
Steve Politakis, chief executive director at Kitsap Bank, said the bank has helped the Port of Kingston renovate its marina and sold Poulsbo bonds, among many other things.
He added the Port Orchard downtown community center will be moving into their site, while Kitsap Bank will build its new home next door — just its third home in 114 years. The community center move will open up the waterfront to the public and drive economic prosperity downtown, he said.
List of priorities
Goals for KEDA include:
1. Business retention, expansion and recovery.
2. Organization and resource development. KEDA is going through a lot of changes, and it is looking for new sources of funding, such as a capital campaign.
3. Marketing and communication plans, including community engagement.
4. Diversity, equity and inclusion.
5. Entrepreneur and innovation.
Kathy Cocus, KEDA program manager, said the past two years the focus has been on business retention. It has done things like provide small business grants to businesses in Bainbridge Island, along with ramping up its Shop.Eat.Spend campaign in Kitsap County. Of 36 grants awarded, 35 are still in business.
KEDA has assisted 388 clients and impacted 3,628 employees. Its PTAC government contracting program has provided a low of $3.21 million in Bainbridge and $15.2 million in Poulsbo to $30 million in unincorporated Kitsap County. Port Orchard is closer to Poulsbo’s numbers, and Bremerton’s to the county’s.
Greg George, president of Port Madison Enterprises, the financial arm of the Suquamish Tribe, is retiring from KEDA. He is keeping his day job. “Any money we make is invested right back into our community,” as tribal members are the stockholders, he said.
He added the “ship is pointed in the right direction, but it’s a large ship that’s hard to turn,” but it’s focused on doing the “right thing for the right reasons.” He said they do a “lot of good for the community,” like dispersing a quarter of a million dollars to nonprofits.
New mission statement
“To facilitate healthy economic growth and investments that support livable, resilient communities fueled by innovation and the diverse people and businesses of Kitsap County.”
Politakis, Cocus and George received Economic Champion Awards, while the late Rear Adm. Bruce Harlow won the Economic Champion Lifetime Achievement Award.
Our newspaper publisher, Terry Ward, is a member of the KEDA board.