By Rachel Pritchett
Kitsap needs to be branded and sold.
Some 70 business and government leaders agreed Tuesday that would be the best way to bring economic development to Kitsap, along with jobs that come with it.
What that brand should be caused a fair bit of animated conversation at the Economic Vitality Summit held at the Kitsap Conference Center.
Patricia Graf-Hoke, manager of the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor & Convention Bureau, suggested Kitsap be branded as the “natural playground” of Puget Sound, where outdoor tournaments of all kinds could be held right here at home.
“Tournaments are a huge, untapped market for us,” Graf-Hoke said.
But others thought Kitsap could be marketed to the rest of the world as the place where clean-technology manufacturers could settle, grow and thrive.
“We’re clean, we’re green, we’re mean,” suggested Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce director Kevin Dwyer, thinking off the top of his head.
But in spite of Port of Bremerton recently killing SEED, the proposed Sustainable Energy and Economic Development project, the idea of encouraging clean-tech seemed to have some traction.
Teresa Osinski, government affairs director for the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County, said Kitsap’s brand should be Built Green, based on a program long in place locally where home builders use low-impact techniques.
“Built Green is really the grassroots,” she said.
Dona Keating, president of West Sound Technology Association, suggested Kitsap have a “sustainability showcase” where tourists could come and see the latest in sustainable home furnishings, energy-efficient appliances and the rest.
The all-day event was hosted by the port and the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance. At the onset, port director Cary Bozeman asked the leaders to come up with a “roadmap” that he and others can follow to diversify Kitsap’s economy.
He was met with a wave of tourism-themed suggestions.
Sam Askew, hotel director for Port Madison Enterprises, said 4,500 jobs in Kitsap come from tourism and conventions.
“We’ve got a really untapped resource here,” he said.
Others suggested Puget Sound Naval Shipyard show off its ships to satisfy tourists who come to see the Navy up close but find the door shut tight.
Richard Tift, executive director of the shipyard, nodded that he understood.
Someone even suggested making Kitsap a destination for megayachts, which perhaps could solve the emptiness problem at the Bremerton Marina.
Whatever the brand is, Kitsap should have one big annual event tied to it to draw in the crowds, like Seattle has Seafair, Mount Vernon with its tulips or Portland and its roses, a few said.
Beyond a theme, just about everyone in the room agreed that the prospect of a healthy, active lifestyle that’s possible in Kitsap was a huge draw, and building on it could only help.
Part of that means helping the farmers’ markets, and buying and eating local to entice workers to want to live here.
“They’re here because they want to be here,” Clif McKenzie, owner of Watson Furniture Group, said of his employees.
And the theme also means promoting the kayaking and bicycling, and designing what Graf-Hoke called “stay-cations,” where weary urban dwellers could come for a weekend of healthy activities, or just watching a moonrise over Appletree Cove.
And it also means promoting the ferries, by far the No. 1 tourist draw to Kitsap, audience members said.
The leaders drew up long lists of things they believed were hampering economic development in Kitsap. Topping it was lack of higher education options which has led to Kitsap’s best and brightest young people leaving for college and never returning.
That situation has left employers like Harrison Medical Center having to search nationally for its most highly technically trained workers — and their just as highly educated spouses.
“We need to create those opportunities for highly educated people who have time to be involved in the community,” said Scott Bosch, Harrison president.
With all of that, Bozeman and the other economic-development leaders had their roadmap.
Kitsap, he said, hasn’t fulfilled its potential to get and keep new businesses.
“So why don’t we try something different?” he asked.
By Rachel Pritchett