Continuing his economic development outreach throughout the state, over the last two weeks Lt. Governor Habib traveled to Cowlitz, Chelan, Skagit, and Clallam Counties, focusing on the challenges faced by rural Washington communities, and meeting with a variety of stakeholders including tribal leaders, economic development councils, business owners, local elected officials, higher education institutions, and civic organizations to listen to the concerns of rural Washingtonians, and engage in strategic discussions on how to grow jobs in struggling corners of the state.
Though each community is unique in its character, challenges, and needs, Cowlitz, Chelan, Skagit, and Clallam have in common an economic history rooted in resource extraction, with timber, fishing, and agriculture playing major roles in the development, and decline of the economies within their borders.
While visiting, Lt. Governor Habib had the opportunity to hear from community members how the state can be a better partner to rural communities, and help bring opportunity to every corner of Washington state.
Lt. Governor Habib began his visit to Cowlitz County in Longview, where he met with the Cowlitz Economic Development Council board and nearly twenty economic development stakeholders including local business leaders, port officials, superintendents, and local elected officials. Recent permitting decisions regarding two major natural resource export facility projects, the Millenium Coal Terminal, and the Longview Methanol Plant, dominated the conversation, and community members expressed deep concerns about the perceived gridlock tension between environmental standards and proposed development projects, and the impact to job growth in the community.
Continuing the discussion of economic development at the Port of Kalama, which itself is a major economic driver in the County, Lt. Governor Habib received a briefing on the Port’s many economic development initiatives, and heard from business leaders in the community concerns about the anticipated changes in NAFTA, and trade treaties more broadly, will pose to international exports, which are a significant portion of Port of Kalama’s business.
In Ridgefield, Lt. Governor Habib met with Cowlitz Chairman Bill Iyall, and received a tour of the Cowlitz Tribe’s new facility, Ilani Casino Resort. The resort, which had its grand opening in April of 2017, is 368,000 total square feet, and boasts over 100,000 square feet of gaming space, 2,500 slot machines, 75 gaming tables, and over 15 different restaurants and retail outlets, making it the largest gaming space in the Pacific Northwest. Chairmain Iyall explained plans for continued expansion, which will include an adjacent convention center, and an onsite hotel with world-class amenities. The project is poised to make Cowlitz County a premier tourism destination, which will inject much-needed dollars into the community, and diversify the economy, bringing increased hospitality development with it. Lt. Governor Habib and Chairman Iyall discussed the need for a dedicated statewide tourism budget to help market attractions like Ilani and draw tourists to the state.
Visiting Lower Columbia College, the County’s only institution of higher education, Lt. Governor Habib discussed the need for our system to provide easier access and more flexible pathways to pursuing a post-secondary degree. With only 15% of adults in Cowlitz possessing any kind of post-secondary credential, half the statewide rate of 31%, the County is among the lowest in college attainment. LCC President Chris Bailey described the education challenges faced by the community, namely that due to the lack of well-paying jobs and higher education institutions, many students move away to pursue a higher degree, and don’t return to the community.
Lt. Governor Habib ended the day by keynoting the Southwest Washington Labor Roundtable Annual Awards Dinner, where in his remarks he talked about the maintaining high labor standards to sustaining economic growth in the region.
While in Southwest Washington Lt. Governor Habib was hosted on Clark Talks, The Columbian’s weekly news podcast, where he discussed everything from regional economic development, to his thoughts on the trajectory of the Democratic Party, to his recent international trade delegations, with reporters Jake Thomas and Dameon Pesanti. You can listen to the episode here.
Lt. Governor Habib traveled Saturday, September 30 to kickoff the annual Oktoberfest festival in Leavenworth. The festival, which was first put on in 1998 and since then has grown into the United States’ largest Oktoberfest celebration, withover 10,000 tourists from around the globe visiting each year.
While in Leavenworth, Lt. Governor Habib also hosted a roundtable with members of the tourism industry, including local business owners, Mayor Cheri Farivar, and the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, to discuss ways the state and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor can collaborate with local communities to promote tourism and market our state.
Lt. Governor Habib began his tour of Skagit County with a visit to Skagit County College, where college president Thomas Keegan, along with the Skagit Valley Economic Development Alliance brought together a panel of nearly 30 representatives from the K-12 and higher education institutions, local and county government, chambers of commerce, and local businesses for a robust and collaborative discussion of community development efforts to attract business and foreign direct investment, increase investments in workforce development to fill the skills gap, and address the growing shortage of qualified workers in healthcare, technology, and the skilled trades.
During his visit, Lt. Governor Habib visited Chinook Enterprises, a Tier-1 Boeing supplier and manufacturer that operates as a social enterprise employing and supporting career preparedness for people with disabilities. The Lt. Governor met with students participating in Chinook’s transition program, and visited with Chinook employees learning about the products Chinook produces, and the extensive community services they offer to people with disabilities in the County.
Lt. Governor Habib spent the rest of the day at the Port of Skagit, hearing from the Port staff about the multitude of innovative economic development initiatives the agency is running, including projects to bring universal broadband service to the region, reinstate passenger air service at the local airfield, and diversify and strengthen the burgeoning value-added agriculture, food-processing, and agro-tourism industries the county boasts.
The Lt. Governor also heard from representatives from Skagit County’s Latino Business Retention and Expansion Program who gave a briefing on the County’s work to expand establishment, retention and expansion of Latino owned businesses. The program, which is run by the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County is the state’s longest-serving program focused on supporting Latino businesses owners.
Clallam County, home to more than 74,000 Washingtonians, is located in the most Northwest point of the state, running along the Olympic Peninsula. Historically a natural resource-based economy, Clallam County is among rural communities in our state that have struggled to in the wake of a changing economy. While in Clallam County, the Lt. Governor’s day focused on education and workforce opportunities to help grow jobs and attract retain talent to fill them.
Lt. Governor Habib began his visit at Peninsula College, meeting with President Luke Robbins to learn about the higher education opportunities the college offers, ranging from Running Start and certificate programs to opportunities for bachelors and masters degrees. Peninsula College has had to be innovative in the way it offers programming to students from all walks of life, many of whom are part-time. While at Peninsula College, Lt. Governor Habib toured the new Allied Health Center, a new and state-of-the-art facility that operates as a collaboration with Olympic Medical Center, the region’s hospital and largest employer, in order to educate, train, and certify individuals to fill much-needed nursing and medical assistance jobs across the County.
In the afternoon, the Clallam County Economic Development Council hosted a forum including local tribal, city, county, education, nonprofit, and industry leaders to have a discussion about a coordinated regional economic development strategy and the role K-12 and higher education has in growing and keeping jobs in the community.
After a tour and visit with employee owned Lumber Traders Incorporated, the Lt. Governor sat down with Port Angeles Mayor Patrick Downie. Mayor Downie was excited to report that City of Port
Angeles has a lot to look forward too. The city has already begun initial phases on the Port Angeles Waterfront Redevelopment Project, which will be the center focus of the community and an added draw for this tourist community. The city, credits early success of the project with grants received from the State Recreation Conservation Office and Community and Economic Revitalization Board (CERB).