KREDC focuses on marketing Kitsap to business leaders

What do corporate leaders from outside the area think when Kitsap County is mentioned?

Does the name conjure images of a cost-efficient place to relocate or an obscure rural community?

During the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council’s (KREDC) annual breakfast March 21, business leaders brainstormed for catch phrases that could be used to market the county to primary employers.

The exercise highlighted the role the KREDC plays in enticing firms contemplating relocation. Finalists included: “Kitsap, the beauty of business;” “Cross over to the better side of business;” and “The Sound of opportunity.”

Four panelists at the breakfast at the WestCoast Silverdale Hotel discussed public private partnerships, economic diversification and mixed-use development models.

“I think we all agree Kitsap is wonderful, but we have a squeak in the floor: A narrow economic base,” said Jim Robinson, chief executive officer of the Bremerton-based construction company James H. Robinson, Inc.

That makes the community vulnerable, said Robinson, a 40-year Kitsap business owner. He applauded the the KREDC’s effort to diversify the business mix.

County Commissioner Tim Botkin stressed the importance of smart growth in balancing quality of life, aesthetics and business development in the community.

The smart growth model favors mixed-use, high-density developments and emphasizes architectural standards and transit use. It’s widely viewed as an anti-sprawl initiative.

Botkin acknowledged that Kitsap’s complex and costly permitting processes have made things difficult for businesses. County leaders are trying to shift to a more collaborative and business-friendly model, he said.

“We are aware this is a huge issue,” Botkin said.

Mixed-use development — which combines housing, jobs and retail in central neighborhoods — was another theme of the discussion, along with downtown Bremerton redevelopment.

A mixed-use community is a place where you can get a living-wage job close to home, and not have to move away from a town you love for lack of opportunity, explained panelist Jon Rose, president of the Poulsbo-based Olympic Property Group.

Rose also bemoaned the transient nature of modern society.

“Having a good economic base, getting a job where you were raised, isn’t that worth something?” said Rose, whose firm manages real estate.

Public-private partnerships are another key to successful redevelopment, said Norm McLoughlin, executive director of the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority.

When the agency built affordable housing in Poulsbo, he said, commercial development followed.

“All these things are part of smart economic growth and community building,” McLoughlin said.

Realizing plans for a Silverdale community campus, which could include a community center, a library and a performing arts center, is another of McLoughlin’s goals.

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