How to win friends and influence people to live in Langley

Rufus Rose discusses his ideas for drawing young families to Langley during the final economic forum last week.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Rufus Rose discusses his ideas for drawing young families to Langley during the final economic forum last week.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Ideas and enthusiasm were flowing at the third and final gathering of the Langley Economic Forum on Tuesday.

Each meeting drew at least 40 participants including Langley’s mayor and city staff, South Whidbey School District leaders, Island County representatives and business owners. The finale of a three-month series examining how to revitalize South Whidbey’s only incorporated city came up with some big ideas, most of which centered around drawing people into the city limits.

“If you just talk about it, people step forward with how they’d like to participate,” said Whidbey Island Nourishes board member Jerry Stiers.

Business owner and former city councilman Russell Sparkman proposed a Kickstarter fundraising campaign — Kickstarter is a crowdsource funding website — to bring in $33,500 by the second quarter of 2014. The money could then be put toward the creation of a video and website to inform people what makes Langley an ideal place to live and work.

Plenty of people already live on Whidbey Island or the Puget Sound area who work from home, Sparkman said.

“There is a tremendous hidden economy here,” he said.

Sparkman, a media and marketing consultant, noted his family lives within city limits and estimated that 85 percent of their income over the past 12 years was from off-island. He also mentioned three other South End families who earn at least 50 percent of their income off-island.

That’s a group of “knowledge-based workers” who could find Langley appealing, he said.

“We don’t need an office park — that’s something I hear all the time,” Sparkman said. “We don’t need tax incentives for large corporations … What we do need to do is to tell our story that South Whidbey is a viable option.”

One of the themes for the final forum was attracting young professionals and young families to Langley. That led Mayor Fred McCarthy to question the importance of the school district in parents’ decision to move. Sparkman suggested that the quality of a school district would not be a major factor.

“Perhaps they would look beyond that,” he said.

What makes South Whidbey, and specifically Langley, viable for that demographic, said Sparkman, is its strong arts community. Having a vibrant arts community with galleries and performances, he said, will draw “place-agnostic workers” into Langley as well as boost business through tourism.

Keeping money on Whidbey Island was the topic of Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson’s presentation. She showed how dollars spent on the island generally stay on the island at a rate of $60 per $100 spent.

“Buy it here or get it delivered,” Price Johnson urged.

The final speaker was Tom Moore, who has organized and run the Choochokam festival for years. He discussed the power of event planning and the recently founded Choochokam nonprofit’s hopes to expand beyond a single weekend of free music and arts.

“We want to continue to grow this and make it something that goes year round,” he said.

With all the formal gatherings finished, the duty of sparking Langley’s home sales, business leasing and register ringing is up to the Langley Economic Forum’s participants.

“We all have to own it,” McCarthy said. “Someone once said, ‘If you have a hole in the boat, you have a hole in the whole boat.’ You don’t stand on the bow and say, ‘I don’t care if the stern sinks.’ ”


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