Civic Agenda: Bellingham looking to create jobs, improve quality of life

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 5, 2013 

Community leaders talk a lot about economic development, but what exactly is it? What can city government do to encourage a thriving local economy? How do we make sure that our economic development efforts match our community's goals? And how do we know if these activities are successful?

City officials are considering these questions and others, and we invite you to learn more and let us know what you think. We are taking steps to encourage existing businesses to stay and expand in our community, and positioning the city to attract new businesses and grow in sensible, sustainable ways.

CREATING JOBS AND IMPROVING OUR QUALITY OF LIFE

Economic development is typically described as the creation of jobs, which improves the quality of life for all residents. The main goal of economic development is to improve the economic and social well-being of a community through efforts that encourage retention and creation of jobs, enhance the tax base and improve quality of life.

There is no single strategy for successful economic development. Partnerships among public agencies, non-profit organizations and the private sector, each contributing to a common goal, are critically important to our community's success. As a public agency, the city must be transparent and accountable in our actions and make choices based on information and data.

We are emphasizing activities and services that:

Provide essential community services: Providing timely, efficient city permitting and regulatory functions and safe, high-quality public amenities and infrastructure are essential to creating an environment for successful investment and development. When we do our part to provide these services, others can make investments that create jobs.

Create capacity: What does a sewer treatment plant have to do with economic development? The expansion of the Post Point Wastewater Treatment Plant now under construction is a great example of a project with multiple benefits, including economic development. Today, this project is creating much-needed construction jobs in our community. When finished, it will help protect Bellingham Bay and create wastewater capacity for future business development. Proposed investments in regional storm water treatment facilities and wetland mitigation strategies are other examples of building capacity in ways that create better environmental results and are more cost effective.

Meet community goals and values: We also must be sure our economic growth is sustainable and carefully balanced with other community values, such as protecting and enhancing our environment and preserving our quality of life.

Rely on strategic partnerships: We are fortunate to have many capable partners working together to support our healthy economy, including the Port of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Western Washington University and other colleges, the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Connections, Whatcom Council of Governments and others from throughout the public, private and nonprofit sector.

Retain our businesses: While we want to attract new businesses, it is important first to retain the businesses we have. We are asking businesses about their experiences with the city, and our goal is to make our regulatory path consistent, predictable and fair.

UPCOMING PROCESSES AND DECISIONS

The City Council has adopted a series of legacies and strategic commitments that set an ambitious vision for the next 20 to 50 years, one of which is to support a vibrant, sustainable economy. As our regional economy begins to stabilize, it is essential that we take concrete steps to meet these goals and measure our progress along the way. Actions we are considering this year include:

NEW ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CHAPTER

The City Council is considering a new chapter for the city's comprehensive plan devoted to economic development. The document proposes key economic goals:

Positive business climate: Build and maintain a positive and competitive business friendly climate that will attract and retain high quality businesses in Bellingham.

Economic diversification: Accommodate a broad mix of jobs, while actively seeking a greater proportion of living-wage jobs that will benefit a cross-section of the residents of the city.

Land and infrastructure: Maintain an adequate supply of developable employment lands to accommodate the forecasted growth and accomplish the city's economic development goals.

Vibrant commercial centers: Accommodate and manage growth primarily by encouraging the development of mixed-use urban villages.

Quality of life: Continue to invest in the quality of life attributes that provide the city with a competitive advantage in terms of economic development.

The council is expected to consider these goals and policies proposed to achieve them at the May 13 council meeting. The agenda for this meeting will be available on May 9 at cob.org/council.

DOWNTOWN PLANNING

The downtown plan is an effort underway to identify needs, revise and simplify rules and regulations, remove barriers to investing, and establish actions to improve vitality. We have involved businesses and residents and many others who care about downtown. We are building action plans to address parking, behavioral issues and crime, creating new downtown neighborhood connections, and promoting historic preservation efforts. For more information, visit the city website at cob.org/downtown.

WATERFRONT REDEVELOPMENT

We have a number of economic development activities underway, but none as extraordinary as our work with the Port of Bellingham to redevelop the downtown waterfront. As we are implementing our downtown and Old Town plans, our goals are to clean up this waterfront property, create public access and plan for growing demand for jobs and housing. The draft city/port plan proposes a balance: parks and light industrial areas, jobs and recreation, accessible beaches and working waterways. It envisions a steady rate of development over several decades, with gradual public investment. The plan is currently under review by the the Bellingham Planning Commission. For more information visit the city website at cob.org/waterfront.

What is economic development? Economic development is as big and complex as a sewer treatment plant upgrade or a 237-acre waterfront clean up and redevelopment. Economic development is strategic. And economic development is as simple as thanking our existing businesses for investing in our community, and making sure they get what they need from city government so they can continue to thrive here. As we consider various economic development plans and actions in the coming weeks and months, please let us know what economic development means to you by contacting my office at 778-8100 or mayorsoffice@cob.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville to provide to share updates about City of Bellingham issues and projects. She invites citizens to contact her at 360-778-8100 or mayorsoffice@cob.org.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

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