There is a common factor in the news

In less than a week, Kitsap residents were treated to a number of news stories and editorials that are cause for significant concern. The collective items should have resulted in some investigative follow up. All we got were two letters to the editor. The “news” materials concerned the slower than anticipated growth of the county, the Economic Development Advisory group’s record of performance, the difficulties facing Kitsap Transit and several other items of a related nature.

Growth in communities requires real stimulus. The most common drivers are good paying jobs and/or available affordable housing. Bedroom communities require a combination of affordable housing and efficient transportation between home and the work place. Kitsap appears to fail on all three counts: jobs, housing and transportation. The single most significant factor in restricting economic growth and associated population growth in Kitsap County is government regulation and taxation policies.

Population growth projections for Kitsap assumed an expanding economy, providing reasonable wage jobs to lure new workers. There has been no significant economic growth. The jobs that were supposed to come here have gone elsewhere.

The underlying requirements for real economic development are a “business-friendly” environment from governments, a skilled labor force for business and a housing market that supports the business employees. Of these, Kitsap has but one: a trained labor force. Unfortunately the missing elements preclude real business development and the available skilled labor force moves on and moves out. Government sending a few tax dollars to Kitsap for public works projects or projects like the Bremerton boardwalk project does not constitute economic development.

Because all business is created by risk of private capital, it is appropriate that businesses should select locations that minimize risk. Unfortunately, Kitsap has a national reputation of not being a good place to consider for business startup. Until both local and state government revise the regulatory and tax approaches taken toward business, our economic future will be constrained. The prospect for a more prosperous Kitsap will remain but a dream.

Businesses need a trained skilled work force. We have that available in both our ex military/government workers and our children graduating from high school and college. Unfortunately the jobs they need are not here. Some leave permanently, others join the large body of commuters who work in East Sound companies. Meanwhile the overall percentages of our work force employed by government and cross-sound employment continue to grow. Instead of reaping a great economic benefit available from our work force, the largest share of the profit benefits are left behind in the workplace counties or the “businesses” pay no taxes.

Affordable housing in Kitsap is a dream long gone. Our housing market reflects the much higher Seattle market prices. While our “bedroom community” residents can probably afford the inflated prices, wage levels in the county do not allow many locally employed workers the same benefit. A worker earning the average wage in Kitsap cannot afford to buy a home here. A working family needs income of about $90,000 a year to become a homeowner. Most private business that might come to Kitsap, and most of those already here, cannot pay that wage level. Even dual income families have a difficult time meeting the earnings criteria. And what drives the cost of housing? To some degree, the East Sound market, but more significant, government regulation over the past 10 to 15 years has been the primary inflator of home prices.

Transportation also plays a major role in economic development. Businesses need to move raw materials and supplies to their business and then move goods and services to market. Businesses require roads and other transportation modes that are accessible, useable and dependable. Businesses need assurance that their workers will be able to get to work dependably. Kitsap has a less-than-exemplary record in meeting the transportation needs of the population and certainly has done little to support growth in the county. Kitsap Transit, heavily subsidized by tax monies, while providing a cheap ride for commuters, really does little to fill the transportation needs of the county. With a work force of about 100,000, approximately 40 million commuter trips are made each year. Kitsap Transit carries less than 10 percent of the work force commuters. Ferries, absolutely essential to the continued employment of our commuter work force, are a low funding priority for the state. Roads rank at the very bottom of the priority ladder. The road system in Kitsap grows less user-friendly each day. Projects like the 305 HOV lanes and “Malfunction Junction” in Silverdale cannot be considered improvements, regardless of marketing spin. The everyday gridlock at the east bound merge of Highways 3 and 303 is a continuing legacy of failed road planning.

To remedy the lack of new road construction over a more than 10-year period, the county plans a connector road from Clear Creek to Old Frontier. How that “improvement” resolves gridlock or enhances economic development is not clear. The one thing that is certain, while it gets more expensive to fill your gas tank and more expensive to buy the groceries to feed the family, there is no apparent end to the government effort to empty your wallet first to fund their “essential” services and projects.

And so we come full circle. Growth projections are not met because there is no reason for growth. Economic development does not occur to provide the jobs that encourage population growth. Affordable housing is not available for employees so economic development is repressed. Transportation is not efficient and reliable for either work force or for business. Growth projections are not met and still the harmful regulations increase. If there is a question about population growth in Kitsap as opposed to other counties perhaps the answer is found in that those other counties have not tried to implement land use rules that far exceed the requirements or spirit and intent of state law. Perhaps being the toughest has the unintended consequence of being the least likely to grow. Do you see the common factor in all these stories?