EDC finds its new leader

The new economic development czar for Island County was found along the Columbia River in the southwest portion of the state.

Sharon Hart is the new Island District Economic Development Council exectutive director, it was announced Thursday.

Hart will officially begin her duties on Nov. 5, but those who want to meet her can find her at the upcoming Uniquely Whidbey Trade Fair and Home Show Oct. 13-14 at Coupeville High School.

Hart is a lifelong resident of Wahkiakum County, where she has spent the past 12 years as director of the Lower Columbia Economic Development Council.

Andy Hunter, chairman of the board of the Island District EDC, expressed relief that a director was found after a lengthy search and several interviews.

“It was a long haul,” he said.

After the first round of interviews, the EDC board majority favored Paul Samuelson, well-known South Whidbey barber and past school board chairman, for the position.

“It was a very close vote between Paul and Sharon, and the board was comfortable with either one,” Hunter said.

Samuelson negotiated with committee members but they never agreed on terms.

“He felt it wasn’t the best fit for him,” Hunter said.

Hunter made the final decision to hire Hart.

“I’m looking for her to do a terrific job,” he said, adding that her job history shows “she will be very aggressive in determining what the needs are in the community . . . and going out and finding them, finding new, appropriate business.”Attracting more business to the county is the EDC’s top priority.

“It’s our mandate from the county commissioners,” Hunter said. Although not a county agency, Island County provides a good portion of the EDC’s funding, approximately $30,000 annually.

Hunter said Hart accepted a compensation package totaling $50,000.

“We’d like to be able to pay more,” he said.

Hart did not immediately return a phone call. A news release from the EDC quotes her as saying, “I feel my previous experience in Wahkiakum County serves as an excellent background to assist business in your beautiful area of Washington state.”

The Island District EDC, which includes San Juan County, has been without a director since Tom Shaughnessy resigned last spring.

Hart will be moving to an area about the size she’s used to. Wahkiakum County, like Island County, is one of the smallest in the state. With 260 square miles, Wahkiakum ranks 37th in size, while Island, with 211 square miles, ranks 38th. Only San Juan County is smaller.

Population-wise, Island County has a big edge with 70,000 people compared to Wahkiakum’s 4,000 residents. The county seat of Cathlamet has a population of about 550.

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