Jobs: What the candidates say

Can the city of Oak Harbor do anything to encourage the growth of better-paying jobs in the Island County economy? This is what the candidates say.

  • Friday, October 1, 1999 3:00pm
  • News

“Oak Harbor’s City Council candidates generally agree that the lack of good-paying jobs on Whidbey Island is a major issue, especially for young families. Opinions vary, though, on what the city can, or should, do about it.Here’s what some of the candidates say they want to do to raise the average wage:Seat 2Eric King, who owns Whidbey Printers, a custom printing shop in Oak Harbor, said local businesses cannot afford to pay high wages because of the high cost of doing business on an island. He said it’s more expensive to ship goods to and from the island than it is on the mainland. “I call it the bridge tariff,” he said. He said the city should encourage the kind of businesses that don’t rely on shipping freight, like information services. He said the key to doing is to build the proposed campus-style, business park north of the city.Paul Brewer, recycling director at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, said he doesn’t think the city has much chance of attracting significant numbers of high-tech or light manufacturing jobs because the island’s transportation links are too slow. He said he would be willing to consider fee breaks to attract businesses to a new business park, once one is built — but he thinks questions over extending infrastructure, like sewer lines, and over the extension of roads around the city will likely delay a park’s annexation and construction. In the meantime, the best the city can do is try to persuade employers to pay more, while lobbying the state for better transportation systems, he said. Seat 3Helen Chatfield-Weeks, a retiree, said she thinks the city can help raise wages by being supportive of businesses. One of the problems has been the lack of planning that go into local businesses before they are open. She said the city has an under-utilized but highly skilled labor market among Navy dependents. The best thing that can be done to help local businesses, she said, is to build a municipal pier downtown.Rex Hankins, a retiree, said high employment rates make the average wage low. He said the transportation problem inherent with an island have kept big business with high-wage jobs from coming to the city. He said the constant turnover in Navy dependent workers is a big negative for employers. He supports a business park, but isn’t sure that any business will want to locate in Oak Harbor.Seat 1John R. “Bob’’ Morrison, a former video store owner, now designs training packages for Delex Systems, Inc., a contractor for the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Employers pay low wages on the island because military dependents provide a big labor supply, he said, and supply and demand drive down their price. He said he paid higher than average wages when he owned his own business, and the city might make some headway by jawboning other business owners into doing the same, but the only permanent solution is to attract light industrial and other higher wage jobs to create more competition for the labor force. He said he “absolutely favors’’ creation of a new business park to do that.”

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