Minds combine to boost Langley economy

Sarah Diers and Langley Councilman Bruce Allen listen to Rose Woods, director of Island Shakespeare Festival, during the brainstorming portion of the Langley Economic Forum on Tuesday, Sept. 10.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Sarah Diers and Langley Councilman Bruce Allen listen to Rose Woods, director of Island Shakespeare Festival, during the brainstorming portion of the Langley Economic Forum on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

City leaders, business owners, residents and even a county commissioner put their heads together to find ways to improve Langley’s economic growth Tuesday.

More than 70 people participated in a meeting at the Methodist Church, hosted by Councilwoman Rene Neff and city council candidate Margot Jerome. The idea behind the Langley economic forum was to brainstorm ways to increase the Village by the Sea’s profile, its attractiveness to businesses and potential residents.

“What we’re doing from here is not to reinvent the wheel, but to move forward with these plans,” said Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy.

Four presentations were made by the Langley Main Street Association, the Port of South Whidbey, Whidbey Island Local Lending and on behalf of arts tourism. One of the most discussed points was arts tourism, which was presented by Carrie Whitney, Neff’s daughter-in-law and a strong arts backer. She touted the economic benefits of arts promotion and coordinated arts tourism.

“Arts equals business,” Whitney said, later encouraging the crowd to repeat, “That’s a lot of money.”

She compared Langley with areas like Cedar City, Utah, Eugene, Ore. and Telluride, Colo. All of them have strong arts communities similar to Langley, Whitney said, and track the benefits of an organized arts front for those cities. Some of her ideas taken from those cities’ successes included a combined website and tourism promotion of Langley as an arts destination.

“Langley has the potential to do many of the things these communities are to be financially successful,” she said.

The Port of South Whidbey’s role in Langley was also a major topic, as presented by Port Commissioner Chris Jerome, who lives in Langley.

He informed the group of the port’s efforts and plans to become more involved with economic development on the South End, rather than maintaining boat ramps and the Langley marina.

“I strongly believe things we do in Langley help the whole district,” Jerome said.

Expanding transportation around South Whidbey and South Whidbey Harbor, known as the Langley marina, was one of the major ways the port envisions boosting business. The port’s idea is simple: if people have a way to get around South Whidbey, they are more likely to shop. One long-held desire of both the city and port is a weekend shuttle from the Clinton Ferry Terminal into the commercial cores of Clinton, Langley and Freeland.

“We believe it’s very important for our economic future to pursue enhanced modes of transportation,” Jerome said.

A more direct means of improving traffic into Langley is the expansion of the South Whidbey Harbor. An increase of about 414-linear feet of dock space means more boats and boaters can stop in Langley, a few hundred yards from the busy shopping centers bordered Cascade and Anthes avenues to First and Second streets.

Businesses, however, need to occupy commercial properties. Councilman Jim Sundberg, also a member of the Langley Main Street Association, reported on nine commercial properties for sale or for rent, many of which are located in prime locations.

One such space is the Dog House Tavern at the intersection of First Street and Anthes Avenue, which has been vacant for years. The association came up with a clever way of making the space appear utilized and not abandoned. During the city’s centennial celebration and winter shopping season, Langley Main Street Association put up window decorations, with the permission of the owners, something it would like to spread to other vacant storefronts during shopping seasons.

“Main Street’s a player here, but we’ve had some successes,” said Janet Ploof, the association’s president. “That’s because we haven’t been afraid to take baby steps.”

Main Street is responsible for watering hanging baskets and other garden areas around downtown Langley as well as procuring and running an electric golf cart as a shuttle around town. It goes to the marina, up to the Island Church of Whidbey park and ride lot and around the commercial core.

There are two more scheduled meetings of the economic forum, Oct. 8 and Nov. 12.

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