John Sternlicht

This is National Economic Development Week, which provides an opportunity to think about what we’ve been up to the last couple of years.

In late 2015, we the people of Skagit County conducted a strategic plan for economic development as a path to create long-term, equitable, sustainable prosperity for the entire community. Here’s what we’ve done in Skagit County so far:

n Started a business retention and expansion program to support all existing Skagit businesses and important economic sectors, identifying and addressing obstacles to success, and helping them expand here. Using an economic cluster approach, EDASC (Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County) began convening 15 groups covering agriculture, manufacturing, maritime, arts and culture, nonprofits, tourism, finance, infrastructure and others to find out how to advance each and identify needs that extend across various sectors.

n Worked to improve Skagit’s capacity to grow sustainably and equitably and compete globally. The lack of adequate fiber optics across the county and the need for tourism marketing emerged as the most immediate needs, and EDASC has worked with the Port of Skagit, the county, the Port of Anacortes, the PUD and all the cities and towns to devise a plan that benefits all.

n Created a targeted global business attraction program to market Skagit’s advantages to companies in the U.S. or abroad that fit our profile. EDASC has a dozen active prospects in the pipeline. In addition to U.S. companies, we are also focusing on outreach to European, Canadian and Asian prospects.

Economic development connects people, businesses and interests for the common benefit, includes all segments of the population, and through sustainable growth appropriate to the region, promotes opportunities for all residents and enterprises to reach their full potential.

A number of principles rise to the fore in carrying out a successful economic development program.

First, always work toward a win-win solution. Various principles cannot only co-exist but thrive: responsible, sustainable growth and development, and environmental protection; social responsibility and profitability (doing well by doing good); opening our doors to newcomers that contribute valuable skills and making sure growth unfolds according to plan; and honoring the past and preparing for the future.

Second, planning for growth means a community can play the main role in determining its future. If we move forward without a plan, the region could be overrun by growth not necessarily in keeping with community values.

Third, for a community to prosper, all residents must have opportunities to develop their potential. Economic development works best through collaboration, partnership and relationships. EDASC serves as the junction of private industry, government, education and nonprofits to carry out this mission. The county, cities, towns and ports are essential partners, and our efforts are so much more effective when carried out in partnership with the industries that are here and, as we say, “not yet here.”

Even in a supporting role, EDASC recognizes the importance of various issues that can make life better for all who live here — improving access to STEM education and early learning; greater housing availability and affordability; addressing pressing community health needs through the Population Health Trust, and supporting greater coordination between industry and education for the workforce of the future.

By advancing tourism promotion and better access to affordable, high-speed fiber optics in rural areas, EDASC addresses critical threshold issues to prosperity for significant portions of this area.

Through programs such as Leadership Skagit and NextExec, the EDASC Foundation works to develop the vast and impressive human resources of which this county is justifiably proud. The cadre of civic leaders who are the alumni and future participants contribute gained expertise and insight as they populate volunteer and elected boards throughout the region.

As we think about the entire range of economic development activities, try to see yourself in them, and work with us as a partner to make this community stronger, more resilient and more prosperous in every way.

We welcome your voice.

— John Sternlicht is CEO of the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County.

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