As part of his regional economic development outreach throughout the state, Lt. Governor Habib spent Tuesday and Wednesday of last week meeting with business owners and industry representatives in Southwest Washington.
Washington’s rural coastal economy features the natural resource industries so central to Washington’s cultural identity: salmon, oysters, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and berry farming. The Lt. Governor made sure to reach out to these often challenged industries, as well as to local educators, tech startups, and hospitality leaders during his two-day tour.
The Lt. Governor began his trip at the mouth of the Niawiakum and Palix Rivers in Bay Center for a meeting with members of the Chinook Tribal Council. Chief Tony Johnson was joined by council members Gary Johnson and Jennifer Lagergren, who described their historic challenges with federal recognition. The Chinook Tribal Council members also expressed concerns about local- and state-level issues, such as access to healthcare, support for students with disabilities.
The Lt. Governor’s trip included two major economic development council meetings. The first took place in Pacific County, representing leaders in the local natural resource, tourism, and technology sectors. With technological and environmental changes impacting natural resource industries like timber, the Pacific County Economic Development Council discussed among other issues their efforts to attract foreign investment in order to keep local alder mill operational – a project that is worth 50-75 jobs in Raymond and South Bend.
In Aberdeen, the Lt. Governor met with Greater Grays Harbor Incorporated, the Grays Harbor regional economic development council. The mayors of Montesano, Westport, and Cosmopolis, councilmembers of Ocean Shores, and more than twenty five representatives of local businesses gathered to brief the Lt. Governor on new economic opportunities in the area. In particular, the clean energy sector is growing in Grays Harbor, and several startup companies participated in the meeting.
Both Grays Harbor and Pacific County’s economic development councils described one major natural resource issue in common: seafood productivity. The Atlantic salmon crisis is one of many issues severely impacting tribes and businesses along Washington’s coastline. The Lt. Governor convened a specialized meeting with commercial and sport fishermen at the Port of Ilwaco in order to hear directly from those whose livelihoods revolve around fishing, crabbing, and growing shellfish. In addition to environmental concerns, fishers are concerned that port infrastructure is in such need of repair that it is directly impacting trade.
In addition to these roundtable meetings, the Lt. Governor met constituents where they work – at canneries, farms, schools, and small businesses.
The Lt. Governor learned about challenges facing shellfish growers firsthand at the Goose Point Oystery on Willapa Bay. While ocean acidification is an ongoing concern, shellfish growers have largely adapted their practices to mitigate negative impacts – but the influx of burrowing shrimp is an immediate concern.
The Lt. Governor heard from local farmers, as well, at the family-owned Starvation Alley Organic Cranberry Farm in Long Beach, Washington’s only organic cranberry farm. Prior to touring the cranberry bogs the Lt. Governor heard from the Starvation Alley farm owners about the complicated processes that established the business, and their plans to secure investment for a sustainable future.
The Lt. Governor also toured Cosmo Specialty Fiber Inc.’s industrial facility, the company which took over operations of the Weyerhaeuser pulp processing facility after it closed – costing the region over 200 jobs that have since been mostly recovered. The CEO of Cosmo Specialty Fiber Inc., Mike Entz, described Grays Harbor as a uniquely well-suited location for the pulp and fiber industry: Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock produce some of the highest-quality fiber, and grow exceptionally well within acres of the pulp processing facility. Cosmo Specialty Fiber processes local wood chips and other wood product to create bales of fiber, which can then be used by a wide variety of industries as a component of other products – including certain textiles, acetate, and cement.
The Lt. Governor also met with representatives of Pacific County’s burgeoning hospitality industry in a roundtable meeting in Ilwaco. Hotel owners, restaurateurs, and small business owners described the need for improved collaboration for statewide marketing.
Each industry highlighted a shared major workforce issue: there are not enough young people staying and working in Southwest Washington. During the Lt. Governor’s meeting at Grays Harbor College, education leaders also expressed this concern. The Lt. Governor discussed strategic higher education and infrastructure investments that might address the concerns so many expressed: that the adult generation in Southwest Washington may be the last to maintain many family businesses.
The Lt. Governor finished both his tour of Pacific County and of Grays Harbor County with a local community service organization. Tuesday evening, the Lt. Governor spoke at the South Pacific County Rotary Club in Long Beach, and thanked rotary club members for their service. On Wednesday night, the Lt. Governor joined the Aberdeen Rotary Club for their annual summer potluck, where he delivered the keynote address. Rotary club international has worked to eliminate diseases internationally, alleviate hunger, support people with disabilities, and to promote voluntarism generally. For that reason, the Lt. Governor thanked the members for “putting service above self”, and for promoting community and collaboration — at a time when bipartisanship often seems more difficult than ever.