After almost two years without a director, the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance (KEDA) this week filled the position charged with attracting new businesses and developing jobs in the county.
“I am looking forward to this challenge,” said William Stewart, who is scheduled to assume the KEDA directorship on May 5. “Right now I have more of a view from 5,000 feet, and will develop a more specific strategy in the future.”
Stewart is currently the senior managing director of the International Trade and Economic Development Division (ITED) for Washington State’s Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.
He succeeds David Porter, who resigned in the summer of 2006.
Since that time, the agency has functioned under the supervision of Interim Director Kathy Cocus, who did not seek the directorship.
Cocus, who was KEDA’s business recruitment and retention director under Porter, said her future role is yet to be determined. “We will wait until we are all here before defining how we will all work together,” she said.
Economic progress has not stood still during Cocus’ tenure. The Kitsap 20/20 plan for economic development was developed and refined, setting future direction.
Additionally, the proposed Kitsap County NASCAR track — which was said to be the single biggest recent local economic opportunity — was withdrawn by its sponsors due to a perceived lack of local support.
Stewart said his first strategy will be to meet with each of the KEDA’s board of directors. Current Board President Jim Carmichael said he hopes Stewart will be able to aid in the creation of new jobs that are compatible with the community, and turn planning into progress.
“I think he will have a positive effect,” Carmichael said, “and will be able to connect us with state agencies that we have not been able to reach before.”
“No matter how desirable the community is, economic development is highly competitive,” Stewart said. “We can make a case to the businesses that meet our goals, but much of our efforts will involve a longer-term incentive strategy. Much of the answer may originate in creating a more hospitable legislative environment.”
Stewart said that Kitsap’s population qualifies it as an urban county, and it cannot compete with incentives offered by some smaller counties.
And while some local business and government sources feel the county does not create a good business environment, Stewart said “from the outside, Kitsap has a good image.”
A former newspaper editor and publisher, Stewart has been the executive director of three economic development organizations, was a business development specialist for Avista Corp., and twice served with the State of Washington’s economic development efforts, first as director of Team Washington during Gov. Booth Gardner’s administration, and currently with the ITED.
During his economic development career he also purchased, developed and sold three retail enterprises.
Stewart, 59, plans to keep his Seattle residence for the time being and intends to commute to work on the Bremerton ferry. This is a reverse of the process that many Kitsap residents face daily in order to reach their jobs, but is compatible with the habits of regional leadership staff who do not live in the areas they represent.
“I understand the sensitivity to this,” he said, “but my living in Seattle does not lessen my commitment to the job.
“I have a lot to learn right now and have to wrap up my current obligations,” Stewart said. “I’m glad that I don”t have to relocate at the same time.”