"Quality of life, low cost of living cited as keys by business execs"

"With wages rising after a decade of unprecedented economic growth, quality of life is becoming the primary concern of prospective employees. That gives Kitsap County an advantage, according to local business executives who spoke at the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council's third annual Decision Makers Breakfast Jan. 9 in Silverdale.The executives, who lead three of Kitsap's handful of non-governmental primary employers, spoke during a panel discussion titled Why we stay; why we came.Money is no longer the major issue (in recruiting employees), although money is important, said Ed Cooper, chief executive officer of Silverdale's SquareRigger Corp. The quality of life and participation in an employee-owned company ... are the important factors.Kitsap's quality of life, as well as relatively low cost of living, has played a factor in SquareRigger's growth here. Cooper said that a number of people from Seattle, including about 30 people from Microsoft, have contacted the local company to inquire about employment.Andy Rimkus, vice president of Bainbridge's Airbiquity, said his firm found most of its workforce already in Kitsap County. The region's well-trained workforce was another factor cited by all three execs as reasons for doing business in Kitsap.Rimkus, whose company engineers software for wireless phones, also said the relative commuting ease was an attraction for his firm, which moved to Bainbridge in late 1998 after previous stops in Seattle and Vancouver, Wash..He said half of his employees come from Bainbridge Island or Kitsap County, with the remainder commuting from eastern Puget Sound. Not even a proposed spike in ferry fares frightens Airbiquity, he said, providing the Bainbridge ferry continues to run with its current regularity.There are fewer distractions on Bainbridge Island, Rimkus said.Avoiding that commute is what drew Phil Christoffersen to Watson Furniture, a Bainbridge-based company now in the process of moving to the 12 Firs development near Poulsbo. Every day I see this mirage of cars coming off the ferry. I used to be one of them, said Christoffersen, Watson Furniture's controller. We are very confident that the employment base is here ... the basis for us wanting to stay is, we're not concerned about that.That's not to say that Christoffersen, whose firm employs 125 and specializes in adjustable office furniture, doesn't have concerns about doing business in Kitsap. It's just that those concerns are outweighed by positive impressions of Kitsap's workforce, affordable housing and quality of life.SquareRigger's Cooper, for instance, is worried about whether Kitsap County can provide the type of building the software manufacturer needs, as well as the county's prospects for improved telecommunications. If they can find the right answers to those questions, Cooper said, SquareRigger could build a call center in the Silverdale area.Airbiquity's Rimkus is worried about electricity costs and wireless coverage in Kitsap County.Those concerns aside, Christoffersen added, Kitsap can be uniquely attractive to business leaders.The driving factor, I think, has to be the quality of life in Kitsap County, he said. "

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