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Mayor to form group to boost economy

Mayor Paul Samuelson - file photo
Mayor Paul Samuelson
— image credit: file photo

Mayor Paul Samuelson said earlier this week he would like to start up a mayor’s “council on economic development” as early as next month to find innovative ways to strengthen the economy in the Langley area.

Samuelson said the new citizen advisory group would be staffed with local business and property owners, as well as consumers.

“The challenge is how to strengthen our relationship with the broader Langley community,” Samuelson said.

“There are 15,000 people living on South Whidbey. We need to make sure we get our market share in everyday business,” he added.

Moving away from the tourism-centric economy in Langley to a more diversified business environment is not a new concept. Former Mayor Neil Colburn was an outspoken advocate for a self-sustaining local economy. Also, the economic development committee of the city’s comp plan group did much research in the past two years on ways to give Langley’s economy a boost.

Even though sales tax revenue has been on the rise for the past four years — it was $305,819 in 2007, up from $289,977 in 2006 — merchants have said business has been bleak in recent years.

Indeed, the number of business licenses issued in Langley has varied significantly since 2000, when the local economy took a serious hit. While 190 licenses were issued in 2007, a total of 206 licenses were issued in 2006, which was a huge jump from only 175 the year before.

Samuelson, a local barber and small business owner, said he wants to make sure businesses survive in Langley.

The key is getting a healthy mix of special occasion shopping and everyday goods.

“We need to find out how to provide goods and services to really get people to shop local,” Samuelson said.

“We do very well in the tourism department. But we need to get people to do their daily shopping here.”

Langley businesses are up against some tough competition. Freeland has morphed into a shopping destination in recent years. And with Bayview growing as a commercial center, people have choices for shopping on the South End.

“When Freeland started growing and Bayview expanded, people shifted their habits,” Samuelson said. “We need to win them back.”

With a more diversified economy and more jobs in Langley, some other problems of the Village by the Sea can also be addressed, such as an aging population.

“We need to appeal to a broad demographic. It’s all interrelated,” Samuelson said.

“We want a younger demographic to live here, we have to get them to do business here. There is a whole business side of sustainability,” he said.

People interested in becoming part of the advisory group can contact Samuelson at city hall or call 221-4246.

Samuelson said tackling the economy issue is one of his top priorities and he wants to shape a more interactive relationship with the merchants in town.

A first step is his appearance at the Langley Chamber of Commerce breakfast next week.

Samuelson will speak at 8 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 24 at the Braeburn Restaurant on Second Street.

He will talk about the future relationship between the city of Langley and the Langley Chamber of Commerce. The mayor will be accompanied by Community Planning Director Larry Cort and Kathleen Landel, assistant to the mayor.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmarxwheatley@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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