A sunny walk in the mountains or along the water with family and friends or long-range community planning with people you may not know? Given the choice, most people would choose the former. Planning and policy work is rarely first on the average person's priority list. Ironically, long-range planning is vital to ensuring that the many opportunities Whatcom County has to offer - recreational, economic, educational, cultural and more - are readily available and enhanced over time. And truth be told, it can be engaging and fun.
Residents from all communities and leaders from all economic sectors across Whatcom County recently contributed their ideas and priorities to a new countywide vision that looks generations ahead to answer a fundamental question: How can we, as a community, make the best decisions possible based on the goals we have in common? The project is a new long-term vision for the future of Whatcom County that focuses on quality of life for everyone in our community. Most importantly, it cuts across the typical silos of economic development, environmental sustainability and equitable access to opportunities. All of these components are interrelated and interdependent. The project is entitled Whatcom Futures: Toward a Sustainable Economy. The final vision will serve as a reference that community leaders can confidently leverage as a foundation for investments in critical projects and plans throughout the county for many years.
In 2010, the Whatcom Community Foundation received funding from the Convergence Partnership, a nationwide philanthropic collaboration that helps communities foster health, prosperity and well-being for their residents. The foundation's goal was to build on the decades of local "healthy communities" work, which includes topics ranging from traditional physical and mental health to the economy, education, the environment and more. Healthy communities are a combination of things that individuals can do (e.g., exercise, healthy diet and the like) and things, like long-range planning, that community members do together. Whatcom Futures exemplifies the latter.
The Northwest Economic Council, a countywide non-profit organization focused on economic development, led the project with strategic direction and has maintained an emphasis on economic development in Whatcom County. The economic council hosted community forums in Maple Falls, Lynden, Blaine and Bellingham, where more than 100 citizens participated, providing candid, thoughtful ideas about draft vision statements and their significance to their specific communities. The economic council board grounded the project in economic priorities, a crucial need as the nation continues to recover from the recession.
More than 90 leaders and representatives from businesses, governments and not-for-profit organizations helped shape the vision throughout year. Whatcom Futures will culminate in December with a set of foundational goals that are actionable for planning and implementation by citizens, businesses, non-profits and governmental agencies. The final vision will include indicators to track progress and success over time, as well as recommendations for specific organizational roles to spur implement and next steps. Between now and then, citizens and leaders that care about the future of land use and community well-being throughout the county are encouraged to provide comments and contributions through the project web page on the NWEC's web site, nwecon.org.
Whatcom Futures has already proven to be a great success in bringing together diverse viewpoints from Whatcom residents that care deeply about the future. We invite every local resident to maintain this collaborative spirit moving forward. The community needs your help to guide important decisions and direction that will help us all cultivate and enjoy a healthy and prosperous Whatcom County for years to come.
Mauri Ingram is president and CEO of the Whatcom Community Foundation. Peggy Zoro is director of the Northwest Economic Council.