Speakers address Kitsap economy at Bremerton conference

“For years people left Kitsap to go to King for jobs,” economist Hart Hodges said. “Now it’s reversed.”

The Kitsap Economic Development Alliance held its 21st annual Economic Forecast Breakfast in Bremerton on Thursday.

About 300 people gathered in the Kitsap Conference Center, a conference room near Bremerton’s harbor, to mingle and listen to addresses on the state of the local economy. Rep. Derek Kilmer and local officials including Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler, city council members and county commissioners were present.

In a keynote address, Hart Hodges, an economist at Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research, discussed some national and local economic trends relevant to county residents.

He said he anticipated a slight reduction in national economic growth in the year ahead, and a housing market that may soften, but will still present affordability problems for some.

He also pointed to steady job numbers in Kitsap County, where the job market is less volatile than in other parts of the state due in large part to the number of military jobs.

Hodges, who holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Washington, also noted an intriguing recent trend in Kitsap migration figures. While people have always moved from King County to Kitsap, until very recently the net migration has been negative – meaning more people have moved to the Seattle area from Kitsap than the other way around. That trend, he said, has shifted.

“For years, people left Kitsap to go to King for jobs,” he said. “Now it’s reversed.”

He attributed the positive net migration from King County in part to a booming housing market in Seattle.

He said the development has been accompanied by an increase in the percentage of households in Kitsap County that earn between $100,000 to $150,000 per year.

“It’s increasing fairly rapidly in Kitsap,” he said, referring to the number of higher-earning households.

“The culture’s changing. The feel,” he said. “And you can see that in some of these numbers.”

Following Hodges, Navy Capt. Edward “Alan” Schrader, the Commanding Officer of Naval Base Kitsap, spoke about some of the goings-on at the area’s Navy installations.

One major development at NBK is a planned renovation of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, one of the region’s largest employers – estimated to cost between $2 billion and $5 billion.

The plan is part of a massive overhaul of the nation’s four Naval shipyard facilities.

“Our shipyard is 127-years strong,” Schrader said. “It needs some work.”

PSNS was built during the pre-World War II era, when its function was to manufacture ships. Now, its function is to repair them, and the renovation will focus on that mission.

“Why wouldn’t you have a facility that’s more geared toward repairing things, if that’s what you do?” Schrader said.

He said the Navy anticipates the project, called “The Shipyard the Nation Needs,” to get underway sometime “in the ‘20’s,” over the next decade.

“There’s going to be plenty of opportunity for work in the shipyard going forward,” he said. “Two-to-five billion worth of infrastructure work is a lot.”

The Kitsap Economic Development Alliance (KEDA) is a public-private nonprofit founded in 1983. Its mission is to form partnerships between business and government in order to attract and retain businesses and spur job growth, according to the organization’s website.