SOUNDOFF: EDC can't exist without tax dollars

A recent editorial in the Whidbey News-Times as well as a letter to the editor indicates that there is a lack of understanding as to how Island County Economic Development Council (EDC) came into being and what its mission and responsibilities are. The EDC is NOT a private, for profit, “dues paying membership group only, not directly associated with Island County government,” as stated in the letter to the editor. The EDC cannot “become self-sustaining” as suggested in the editorial.

The EDC is a nonprofit organization that links with the state of Washington and local governments to achieve the “essential public purpose of economic development” as stated in RCW 43.31.005. Island County EDC was founded in March of 1985 by a resolution of the board of Island County Commissioners to serve as a public/private forum where the entire community can plan and implement enhanced economic opportunity for all. More than 70 percent of the funding for the EDC for this fiscal year came from public organizations including more than 36 percent from the county out of the Rural County Development Fund which can only be used for economic development activities, more than 22 percent from the Washington State Office of Community Trade and Economic Development, and almost 12 percent from the cities of Oak Harbor and Langley, town of Coupeville and the port districts.

Membership dues from private businesses amounted to almost 12 percent and just less than 16 percent was generated by EDC activities such as fundraising, annual events, and Uniquely Whidbey Trade Fair. Therefore, we are a public and private partnership and could not exist without substantial financial support from other tax -supported organizations.

Our mission is to undertake those activities and projects that will most effectively retain and create job opportunities for the residents of Island County. These activities and projects will enhance the economic vitality and quality of life while expanding the local tax base and respecting unique community values and environmental integrity.

Our mission is consistent with the direction for economic development as stated in the Island County Comprehensive Plan. Until now, our efforts have been directed towards assisting people thinking about going into business or expanding an existing one and in obtaining funding for those businesses. We have also answered state inquiries from businesses thinking about relocating to this area. However, these efforts have been primarily reactive rather than proactive.

With additional funding from the Rural County Development Fund starting next year, we will, for the first time, be able to commence a modest recruitment program off the island. We do not plan to recruit large, heavy manufacturing firms but rather those businesses which would be compatible with the island environment such as call centers, biotech related firms, electronics manufacturing and software development companies.

The EDC cannot be fairly evaluated or judged only by the amount of additional tax revenue produced by businesses created, retained, or recruited to the island but also by the number of businesses assisted. For instance, during this year we have provided assistance to more than 120 businesses and helped three obtain business loans. We also estimate that approximately 140 jobs have been affected during the past two years with some type of assistance from the EDC.

I understand some people are wary of the words “economic development” but it doesn't necessarily mean that our way of life would be degraded. If done right, it can mean increased job opportunities for a well qualified and under utilized population, an expanded tax base and a more diversified economy. The vast majority of the population including the county commissioners and the mayor and council of the city of Oak Harbor support economic development.

John LaFond is president of the Island County Economic Development Council.

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