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Oak Harbor mayoral committee floats old, new ideas

An ad hoc committee and a city planner are making progress in implementing Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley’s economic development directive.

The effort is resurrecting some ideas from the pages of previous economic-development efforts in the city.

It also includes many new proposals.

 

WHILE OAK Harbor has a history of creating plans that go nowhere, Dudley said that he is optimistic that this effort will be effective in helping the city become more economically healthy and diverse.

“Like any plan, it’s going to be fluid. We’ll have to adjust it as we go,” he said. “Going forward, I’m really excited about the potential.”

The committee is revisiting some earlier ideas, among them relocating the baseball fields at Windjammer Park to make way for a hotel or other private venture; building an amphitheater in Windjammer Park; creating a port district; or building a public restroom downtown

 

SOME OF the new ideas include creating a business incubator; conducting an annual business survey; adding a “business” section to the city’s website; and completing a cultural resources management plan to simplify archaeological requirements for new developments.

Dudley said his No. 2 priority, behind public safety, is economic development.

Dudley launched the mayoral ad hoc committee on economic development after he came into office last year.

Earlier this year, Dudley appointed Senior Planner Ethan Spoo as the city’s half-time economic development coordinator.

 

SPOO RECENTLY completed his first task, which was to create the Economic Profile and Needs Assessment.

The purpose, he said, is to paint an economic picture of the city with statistics and then to identify the economic strengths and weaknesses.

Among the strengths are growing incomes; economic growth in construction, transportation and warehousing; average tax rates and higher-than-average per capita sales tax collection.

 

WEAKNESSES in the profile include high unemployment; low income; slowing population growth; a lower-than-average proportion of people with college degrees; and a dearth of housing that matches local incomes.

Median annual household income for Oak Harbor in 2010 was $50,000, which is $25,000 below the average for cities with populations of 20,000 to 30,000.

In 2010, the median household income was $41,600 in Oak Harbor.


SPOO IS now working with the ad hoc committee on a “Draft Strategy and Action Plan,” which begins the process of starting to implement some of the “needs assessments” from the economic profile.

The plan isn’t a list of big projects, but mainly outlines a series of ideas to be researched or explored. Spoo said the proposals are supposed to be things that can be accomplished in “three to five years with half a staff member.”

The committee began the process of narrowing down the long list of proposed projects during its meeting last Thursday.

The group crossed off the idea of an affordable housing study and researching “shop local” campaigns.

 

MEMBERS OF the committee expressed more interest in exploring the creation of a business incubator in coordination with the Economic Development Council, Skagit Valley College and the high school.

The idea is that the city would own a space to leased out at below-market cost to a start-up business that does light manufacturing or industrial work, according to Spoo.

Once the business gets a foothold, it would move out and another business could move in.

 

OTHER PRELIMINARY ideas include establishing more festivals, developing “welcome packages” for new businesses, cutting fees for certain types of businesses, streamlining the city’s development review process, studying moving the marina downtown, exploring the feasibility of a downtown parking garage and looking into running a trolley between the marina and downtown.

Spoo emphasized that the list is still a rough draft and many of the ideas may not make the cut. He is scheduled to brief the council on the Economic Profile and Needs Assessment during the May 21 council meeting.

 

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