Enumclaw task force wrestles with economic development

What steps can be taken to assure Enumclaw has a happy and healthy economic future?

That’s the question a select group of nine citizens wrangled with from May 2012 through this spring. Following months of study and debate, meetings and review, their findings and recommendations have been made public. A draft version of their report was typed up and committee members are now offering oral roundups to civic groups throughout the community.

The report’s summary does not ignore the negative – on the contrary, it is clearly emphasized how Enumclaw has fallen off the pace in recent years. It was noted how nearby cities like Maple Valley, Covington and Bonney Lake have rapidly expanded, creating both new jobs and opportunities for the purchase of goods and services. During the same time frame, Enumclaw has seen little in the way of new growth. The result is something no city wants to hear: “Many city residents spend their discretionary income elsewhere and are more likely than not to commute to work.”

Ed Hechter, a member of the Economic Development Task Force, went before the City Council in late May to provide a brief overview. He noted there are three key ingredients that were singled out as crucial to the city’s future health:

1 – Promote employment growth in the fields of retail, medical and light industrial;

2 – attempt to attract one or more senior communities to town; and

3 – ramp up efforts to draw tourists and the dollars they bring.

Aside from spelling out specific goals, the task force arrived at five general themes: job growth equals residential growth, which supports local businesses; opportunities to use the Enumclaw Expo Center must be expanded; growth must be balanced and sustainable; opportunities to attract tourists must be seized; and limitations due to geography should be countered with efforts to boost already-established businesses.

In the end, the task force had recommended 15 priorities to be phased in, beginning this year and stretching to 2016. Items suggested for early implementation include:

• a “buy local” campaign, to be organized by the city;

• development of an “economic development” website, complete with demographic information, market research, a list of property available for lease or sale and links to things like necessary permits and licenses;

• continued funding for a program, offered through Green River Community College, that offers counseling to those operating small businesses;

• and an effort by the city to broaden the types of businesses allowed in certain zones without conditional-use permits.

Items for future years range from the deferral of impact fees to outreach to hotel/motel developers, from code amendments for bed-and-breakfast ventures to promoting Enumclaw as a prime location for a full-fledged senior community.

Discussions among task force members and interviews with city stakeholders took a SWOT approach, referring to the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the city.

Strengths included Enumclaw’s small-town atmosphere, historic downtown core, proximity to Mount Rainier and amenities like the Expo Center, St. Elizabeth Hospital and GRCC.

Weaknesses include geographic isolation, a struggling downtown, limited hotels/motels and fewer cultural activities than found in urban settings.

Opportunities exist with tourism, expanded events at the Expo Center, a favorable climate for light industry and the potential to attract the ever-growing numbers of senior citizens.

Threats to Enumclaw’s future were identified as a decreasing population, loss of businesses and the continued trend toward becoming a “bedroom community.”

The effort was an initiative of Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds, in response to discussions and concerns raised about the city’s economic vitality. A similar effort was undertaken not too many years ago under the direction of then-mayor John Wise, resulting in a plan to market Enumclaw as an equestrian center throughout the Northwest with significant improvements to the Expo Center. That plan was scrapped when Reynolds wrestled away the mayor’s post during the 2008 election.


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