News

County to double EDC funding

Island County may nearly double the amount of financial support it provides the Economic Development Council.

While Island District Economic Development Council has been struggling to make ends meet this year, it hopes to launch a new program next year to attract larger businesses to the county.

Approximately three-quarters of the businesses in Island County employ fewer than eight people.

“We’re heavily dependent on the small entrepreneur,” said Sharon Hart, EDC director.

To alleviate that dependence, officials at the EDC want to attract larger employers to diversify the business climate.

To accomplish that, the EDC is looking to Island County government to fund a recruitment and outreach project.

In response, the county commissioners will likely add $31,500 to the county’s 2004 budget to pay for the project. That money is in addition to the $32,500 the county already gives the EDC on an annual basis.

The new program will help the county compete with surrounding areas in courting new employers, such as research industries that would fit well in the county, Hart said.

Island County competes with all counties in the state over business leads that are generated by the Washington State Office of Community Trade and Economic Development.

Hart said the new county money will allow the council to prepare marketing materials and participate in trade shows that neighboring counties attend.

She said the money will also fund trade magazine advertising and contact with any businesses the council chooses to recruit.

One goal the EDC has is to recruit businesses that aren’t transportation sensitive, Hart said, because the island is dependent on ferries and a busy two-lane highway.

Such business possibilities include optical companies and medical manufacturers, among others.

Hart added that the EDC has to research the recruiting efforts of neighboring counties and will keep an eye on technologies being developed at the University of Washington.

Although the EDC has funding for the recruitment project for one year, Hart hopes the funding will be renewed next year.

Commissioner Mac McDowell supports the proposal because he said it provides a proactive way to attract more businesses.

While the $31,500 item was written into the county’s preliminary 2004 budget, it hasn’t been approved. The commissioners will hold a public budget hearing Monday. The budget must be finalized by the end of the year.

The EDC program money isn’t coming at the expense of other county programs. It will be taken from the Rural County Development Fund, which is a pool of money drawn from state sales tax revenues. The fund is earmarked for economic development projects and improvements to infrastructure. The county gained the “rural” designation from the legislature last year after years of effort by the 10th District delegation to Olympia.

In addition to the recruiting money the county plans to give the EDC an extra $6,000 to help balance its current budget.

Hart said this was a tight year because of forces outside her control.

Last year, the San Juan County Economic Development Council split from Island County. When that happened the local EDC lost $29,000 in state money.

Hart said that the budget problem worsened when the EDC didn’t receive an additional $9,000 from the state earmarked for rural EDC’s.

The EDC was slated to receive the state money earlier this year but lost it as part of the effort to balance the state budget, Hart said.

Losing that money left the council with a $97,000 budget. The board made cutbacks that included slashing Hart’s salary by $14,000 and reducing her to a four-day work week.

Despite those cuts, the EDC still came up short on its budget and asked the county for the extra $6,000.

Hart anticipates the council will receive the additional state money from next year’s legislative session which should shore up its budget.

You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at nwhalen@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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