Director leaves EDC

"Now that Island County Economic Development Council's executive director has resigned, it's a time to rethink the agency's game plan, but also to keep focused on the area's major issues.That's how Andy Hunt, chairman of the 17-member EDC board of directors, describes the immediate tasks facing the organization.We'll be tweaking the management structure, Hunt explained. You do that any time when you face such a change and you have a small staff.Tom Shaughnessy last week resigned from the top EDC post, which he held since 1998. The former Island County commissioner left EDC to take the helm at Island County Communications Center, the central dispatch network that handles all emergency 911 calls for Whidbey and Camano islands.Hunt said Shaughnessy's departure gives the EDC a chance to re-examine its role - and success - as an advocate for the area's business community. At the same time, he added, the change in leadership will allow the EDC to recommit itself to its main goals, which include marketing Island County to businesses in other regions, enhancing private-public business partnerships, promoting the development of high-tech infrastructure throughout the county and attracting a larger and more skilled work force.Over the next few weeks, Hunt said, the EDC board will meet at least a few times to discuss and decide on the program's immediate future - and how they will search for Shaughnessy's successor.Hunt admits that promoting the county - which can be strongly divided at times by regional interests - has been far from easy. The EDC has had to balance the needs of the more commercially developed Oak Harbor area with those of rural South and North Whidbey Island, and Camano Island. Hunt said many residents in northern and southern areas of Whidbey Island are inclined to travel to the Interstate 5 corridor to find work or establish businesses.Hunt estimated that the ongoing migration of shoppers and workers across the water has caused the county to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales and business revenues annually to other counties. This has happened despite statistics that suggest the number of area consumers and new businesses county-wide has been steadily growing, he said.All the while, the EDC has tried to grow local businesses and persuade bigger businesses with more jobs that Island County is a desirable market.Shaughnessy, who agrees the county's economic health has been strained by the ongoing loss in revenue, pins the success of his years with the EDC on the county's ability to gain official designation as a rural county from the state Legislature. A change in the county's designation, determined within guidelines set by the state's Growth Management Act, would entitle it to receive hundreds of thousand of dollars in state tax revenues. The refund amount equals eight tenths of 1 percent of sales tax, Shaughnessy said. I have worked very hard, lobbying and educating ... the public, business, the government about why gaining designation as a rural county is important for Island County, he said.Hunt said there are many in the business community who support the effort to gain a rural county designation. At the same time, even if the new designation is not approved, the GMA - recently adopted by Island County - has helped the area better define its needs.We know what our marching orders are now ... it'll help us put together a plan to respond to business needs, Hunt said.Our health is adequate, he said. Any community needs to grow economically ... but the people here do not want us to grow like King or Snohomish or even Skagit County.Island County's business future, said Hunt, lies in the the delicate mix of commercial progress with the retention of the region's pristine, highly prized, natural way of life.Hunt said one of the ways the EDC will immediately work to make a difference will be through better communication about its work. Hunt, echoing the complaints of other in the business community, said the EDC has not always done the best it could to promote itself, let alone other businesses.But improvements are on the way, though perhaps not immediately, he said. The story of how successful we'll be - will be within five to 10 years. "

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