Kitsap economic agency focused on impact over the coming five years
12 Feb 2024
Economy, Infrastucture, Workforce
Joe Morrison Guest column to the Kitsap Sun
One Kitsap - KEDA's Ambitious 5-Year Economic Strategy
Around this time last year, the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance (KEDA) held eight meetings with over 60 stakeholders. We asked two questions of our community: One, what were the economic issues we were facing locally? Two, as the economic developer, where should our organization focus its efforts over the next five years to make the greatest impact?
Discussions brought together a wide range of community stakeholders: Tribal leaders, small business owners, public officials, educators. They were joined by others from a variety of industries, such as financial services, construction, real estate, maritime, defense and beyond.
One theme that emerged quickly in our meetings was workforce. Employers were quick to point out they could hire more, often even up to 15% more staff, but had two problems: First, they simply couldn’t find enough people to fill the jobs. Second, they couldn’t find the right people. They struggled to find employees with necessary qualifications, especially in the trades and healthcare industries. Over the course of the last year, Kitsap’s workforce gap has improved a little, but only a little: As I write this, Port Madison Enterprises has 50 open positions in Kitsap, down from the more than 100-plus they were seeking last year. SAFE Boats could hire 40, everyone from welders to engineers to administrative support, as they try to work through significant product demand. Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, both at St. Michael Medical Center and beyond, is trying to fill 344 open positions here.
Of course housing also emerged as a discussion point in our meetings. Housing cost increases in our community have been both visible and widely felt since the pandemic. From third quarter 2019 to 2023, the median home resale price in Kitsap rose by 41%, from $391,700 to $552,700. In the same time period, apartment costs for a one bedroom increased by 23%, rising from $1,286 to $1,587 (all data from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research – University of Washington). Today in Kitsap new build apartments command prices of $2,300 or even more. Being able to afford to live in one’s community is critical for our economic, social and physical health, as well as wealth creation for families. As such, KEDA stands by our for-profit, non-profit and public housing partners in advocating for increased housing supply of all types in Kitsap.
Other themes that emerged during our meetings were less obvious. Here’s a nearly invisible challenge that has worried parts of the business community for over a decade: Do we have adequate buildings, lands and infrastructure for business purposes in Kitsap? Probably not.
An example: In October 2023, the Navy issued a request for interest for approximately 235,000 square feet of industrial or warehouse space within 40 miles of Bremerton, related to the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, a plan that will drive billions of investment into Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. As I write this, there are exactly zero vacant 10,000 square foot buildings for lease in Kitsap meeting the Navy’s need, and just one for sale (per Moody’s Analytics). This is an issue not just because the Navy needs this space soon, but because both now and the future, without more relevant buildings and underlying infrastructure for business purposes, we’re constraining the room for firms to either grow or locate in Kitsap. We’re limiting our business capacity.
One Kitsap Strategic Plan
This feedback and more from our 2023 stakeholder meetings, and from scores of other data points in our work helped create One Kitsap, our first five-year regional economic strategy. It’s an ambitious plan with ten new or enhanced initiatives launching in the next two years, a dozen in the three years after that. Since KEDA’s mandate is to serve all of Kitsap’s communities and its economy as a whole, there’s a lot in the plan: Finding ways to work with our largest employer, the Navy, to grow the number of transitioning service members and their families into our own workforce; increasing support for small businesses, both in terms of technical trainings and connecting them to government contracts; bolstering support for entrepreneurs, so that our neighbors and friends can build the kinds of businesses they want right here, adding value to our economy.
In 2028, when KEDA is finished executing One Kitsap, our job is to look back and see if we’ve hit our numbers according to the plan. That means we’ve helped create or retain 2,500 jobs, encouraged the creation of 325,000 new square feet of space for businesses, decreased job vacancies at major employers by 25%, and seen GDP growth of at least 3%. We’ll get there by deploying dozens of tactics and strategies, which you can find on our website at http://kitsapeda.me/onekitsap.
Thanks to the dozens of private and public investors in KEDA that are supporting the five-year OneKitsap effort; we appreciate all of you. A special thank you goes out to the KEDA investors that are anchoring this initiative, which include Kitsap Credit Union, the City of Bremerton, St. Michael Medical Center and Port Madison Enterprises. We greatly appreciate the leadership, support and engagement they’ve shown in this plan.
KEDA’s vision is economic vitality for all in one spectacular place. This is the mantra that guides our team every day. Our role is to bring a lens that views and values all the different communities, people and businesses of Kitsap, and then launch efforts where we can work together to make the greatest impact to improve economic outcomes. Naming our five-year regional economic strategy One Kitsap was very intentional: When we work together across our different communities to grow economic prosperity, when we team up and work toward the same goals, we’re more likely to be successful. Here’s to Kitsap, this remarkably beautiful and unique place, and coming together to take on economic challenges and grow prosperity.
Contact Joe Morrison firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about One Kitsap.