The Port of South Whidbey commissioners began the process this week of reviewing and prioritizing long-term goals for the district’s strategic plan.
The board met Thursday, Sept. 5, to go over questions regarding a study on economic trends within port boundaries prepared by Bothell-based BST Associates.
Commissioner Curt Gordon said it was helpful to hear the responses from the firm’s representative, Paul Sorensen, regarding the population demographic for the strategic plan.
“If we want to accurately represent our constituents, we need to know who they are.” Gordon said. “Sorensen gave some really good insight.”
The board looked for ways to create job opportunities in the area based on information from the economic trends presentation.
Approximately 71 percent of households in the district have income from employment earnings and 29 percent rely on investments, social security and/or public assistance with no income from earnings. Sorensen said it’s typical for households to have several forms of income.
Sorensen found that a lot of people who live in the district commute away from the area to work. About 7,659 people were employed of the 13,485 people in the labor force, based on information from the 2011 U.S. Census. Of those, more than 3,500 people lived and worked on South Whidbey and about 1,835 were self-employed. The overall unemployment rate was 5.1 percent, with people between the ages of 16 and 24 making up the largest group.
Sorensen identified a lack of job opportunities in the area with many workers commuting outside the district. He also found of the 3,165 jobs within port boundaries, 1,463 were taken by residents outside the area.
Commissioner Dennis Gregoire was concerned if the boating facilities were adequate enough for the population increase during the summer months.
Sorensen said the port’s assets are heavily invested in boating facilities and that the commissioners should be cautious about making additional marine-related investments due to the changing demographics in boating. He said the average age of boaters is pushing 60 years old.
“Just because you have facilities, in my opinion, isn’t a reason to continue to have them working unless you really know there’s a constituency,” Sorensen said.
More residents would like to engage in canoeing or kayaking more often, according to data Sorensen compiled concerning recreational activities.
The commissioners also looked to Sorensen for advice on how to cater to future populations. Ways to create more jobs, he said, are to increase water-dependent commercial operations, such as charter operators or tour boats; provide moorage for commuter and passenger ferries and park and ride lots; obtain grants or partner up with relevant stakeholders to improve access to industrial properties; or look into more water-dependent manufacturing operations.
For commuters, things work well on the island but off-island commuting becomes more difficult, Sorensen said.
Gordon said that is an area where he sees potential and he was glad Sorensen supported the concept.
The board then reviewed their goals and objectives with representatives from Seattle-based Makers Urban Architecture and Design.
The company developed a draft strategic plan for the port to develop a framework for the final plan near the end of September.
In separate interviews, the company found the commissioners had four main goals for the port: enhance the island’s economy, maintain and protect waterfront public access and recreational opportunities, improve the port’s financial performance, and enhance community relations and partnership possibilities.
Julie Bassuk of Makers Design said she wanted to provide a clear focus for the plan on what the port wants to accomplish in the next one to five years.
Gordon said he was pleased with the work from both companies and thought they encapsulated the goals of the commissioners well.
Gregoire said it was a good discussion, but there’s still more to talk about.
The board’s next meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10 at the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District’s headquarters on Maxwelton Road.