Op-Ed

Economic development takes regional approach in Bellingham, Whatcom County

Over 1,500 people attend the first Downtown Sounds of the summer in 2014 on the 1300 block of Bay St. in Bellingham.
Over 1,500 people attend the first Downtown Sounds of the summer in 2014 on the 1300 block of Bay St. in Bellingham. The Bellingham Herald

The quality of life we enjoy in our community is dependent on a strong local economy. This is why the city has joined with our partners at the Port of Bellingham and Whatcom County to launch Choose Whatcom (ChooseWhatcom.com), a one-stop website that is designed to help all business professionals find the information they need to be successful in Whatcom County. This is just one of many tools the city is using to support our business community.

We all benefit when we cooperate and collaborate to grow the entire region rather than compete for the same businesses, and collectively our three local government agencies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars towards these efforts.

The economic climate for Bellingham is better when we work together as a region. A successful regional economy requires partnerships with Whatcom County and its small cities, all the educational institutions we are so fortunate to have, business leaders, business support agencies, innovators and funders, and all the connections in between. We won’t have raspberry and dairy farmers or refineries in Bellingham, but when they expand and do well, it benefits us. Just as when our businesses expand and do well, it benefits the county as a whole.

The website serves as a portal to the substantial services that are offered here. It also helps communicate that we welcome business — we want our existing business to be successful and grow, we want new businesses to locate here and we have services and resources to assist them.

We all benefit when we cooperate and collaborate to grow the entire region rather than compete for the same businesses, and collectively our three local government agencies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars towards these efforts.

City incentives

The city is also working independently on other economic development projects ourselves, such as creating an incentive program and planning for future economic growth. This Thursday, May 5, we are hosting an informal information session to let the community know about our new redevelopment incentives program.

The city of Bellingham has adopted one of the most comprehensive redevelopment incentive packages in the state, and we’re inviting developers, builders, real estate professionals, architects, designers, property owners and anyone else interested to learn more about how to use these incentives. The incentives are targeted to help with:

Urban villages: Targets new business growth and vibrant neighborhood development with exclusive tax and fee reductions.

Affordable housing: New housing developments that costs no more than 30 percent of a family’s gross income are considered “affordable;” these developments can qualify for expedited permitting, fee reductions, and more.

Historic preservation: Projects that preserve and reuse historic buildings can qualify for a 10-year tax reduction, among other incentives.

We’re hoping that these incentives will help us move forward the types of housing and urban projects that we want in our community.

Economic development

These initiatives were put forth by our Community Solutions Workgroup on Business Climate. The purpose of the Community Solutions Workgroup was to convene business leaders and city staff to share ideas, develop solutions and prioritize recommendations on ways the city of Bellingham can help strengthen Bellingham’s business climate.

This group produced recommended actions which set forth a strategy for the city on how to support businesses in our community. These included:

▪ Creating clean and attractive streets and public spaces, having positive branding, and communicating and marketing success;

▪ Creating incentives for expanding, starting and relocating businesses in Bellingham;

▪ Continuing to improve business-friendly practices in our permit center and embracing a “no surprises” and helpful culture; and

▪ Providing cohesive and professional economic development services countywide.

We feel that through efforts such as our incentives program and the collaborative approach to Choose Whatcom, we are implementing a strategy that is identifying Bellingham and Whatcom County as a great place to do business. For more information on these great programs, visit ChooseWhatcom.com or our city website at cob.org.

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. Tara Sundin is the city’s economic development manager. The mayor invites citizens to contact her at 360-778-8100 or mayorsoffice@cob.org.

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