John Powers of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance presented the newly revised “roadmap” for economic development in the Central Puget Sound region to the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council on Tuesday.
Kitsap officials had a heavy hand in drafting the Regional Economic Strategy, said Ed Stern, Poulsbo city councilman and board vice chair of the Economic Development District. That’s the body charged with revising the plan every five years so the region — made up of King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties — remains qualified for federal funding.
Stern had hoped that the presentation would include a forum on the relative merits of Kitsap belonging to the Puget Sound Regional Council, under whose umbrella the EDD now resides. It may seem like a lot of alphabet soup, but at issue is a longstanding argument in some camps that the interests of Kitsap County, with 254,633 residents, is overshadowed by the the three other, much larger counties, whose total population is nearly 3.5 million.
The PSRC is a quasi-governmental body that oversees planning for growth, transportation and economic development in the Central Puget Sound Region, which is unique in that federal transportation dollars it receives are allocated through recommendations from the PSRC, not through Olympia.
Alternatives proposed in the past have included leaving the PSRC and joining forces with the Jefferson and Clallam counties to the west or going it as a stand-alone entity. Former County Commissioner Jan Angel was part of the contingent arguing against membership in the PSRC. Former Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola found a lot not to like about the PSRC, including its Vision 2040 transportation plan, and yet he advocated keeping Kitsap’s “place at the table.”
According to Stern, a strong advocate of staying with the PSRC and a Democrat, the great PSRC debate crops up at each election cycle typically along party lines with some Republicans advocating separation. Stern had envisioned today’s meeting as a chance to ferret out any anti-PSRC sentiment among members of the KRCC board, which includes county commissioners, mayors, council members and tribal leaders. That forum didn’t happen.
“I was encouraging John to bring it up to put it to bed,” Stern said after the meeting. “But the leadership (on the KRCC board) already feels there’s consensus.”
In other words, the question of whether Kitsap should remain with the PSRC is not even remotely ripe for debate, as far the KRCC is concerned.
As for Stern’s theory about elections, Reporter Brynn Grimley was at this morning’s Eggs and Issues debate between North Kitsap Commissioner Rob Gelder, the Democratic incumbent, and Chris Tibbs, his Republican challenger. She said there was nary a peep about Kitsap’s membership in the PSRC.
Powers said Kitsap, though smaller than the other counties, competes handily with other PSRC affiliates. The Puget Sound Region is recognized as a player worldwide for its defense, advanced manufacturing and IT industries, all of which Kitsap County has, Powers said.
“Although we’re only seven percent of that population base (the whole Central Puget Sound Region), our output exceeds our population base,” Powers said. “I would submit to you as elected officials to join us (KEDA) in telling our story in the Puget Sound region and beyond, because we can compete on that stage.”
Powers said it makes sense for Kitsap to affiliate with the region to the west with which it shares so may of the same interests and attributes.
“We have a lot to contribute and offer to this region,” Powers said. “The logic is simple. Everyone knows there is strength in numbers. There are advantages in collaborating together.”
Debbie Lester, representing the Bainbridge Island City Council, noted that inadequate ferry service is one of the “choke points” standing in the way of Kitsap’s ability to compete with the other three counties and recognize its full economic potential.
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson and Port Orchard City Councilwoman Carolyn Powers (no relation to John) both bemoaned the region’s lack of a central financial institution or development authority aimed at drawing or growing businesses. John Powers said that topic was discussed during the economic plan revision but it didn’t make the short list due to lack of resources at this time.
If any on the KRCC board who were present harbored separatist feelings about the PSRC, they did not share them.