Promoting economic development in Island County comes with its own unique set of challenges, but Sharon Sappington said she plans to face each one with optimism.
“I try to be positive in everything that I work on,” said Sappington, who was hired as Island County Economic Development Council executive director in late May. “When all the players have a positive way of thinking, things move a lot smoother.”
Sappington moved to Langley after working as a business advisor with Washington State University’s Small Business Development Center for five years. Before that, she worked in various economic development roles in Mexico, Romania and Bolivia.
As an outsider to Island County, she said she hopes she can use her “different lens” as an advantage when developing strategies for the region.
The EDC is a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting and assisting business growth in the county by providing services and resources to new and existing businesses.
The council provides one-on-one counseling, workshops, access to reports and studies and other resources from experts in relevant fields.
Sappington said she wants to focus on collaborating with other organizations providing similar services to leverage resources while eliminating redundancy.
“I don’t want it to be a situation where organizations that deliver value to be competing against one another, because that doesn’t serve the county,” she said.
She has spent her first month learning about the region’s biggest needs and opportunities to build strategies around. A prominent topic from business owners across the county— workforce housing.
“We have a lot of need for positions in the county and we need to attract people into those jobs, but there’s no place for them to live,” she said.
Another focus moving forward will be bringing high-speed broadband internet to as much of the island as possible. She said this could potentially recruit different types of businesses to the island or allow individuals who previously had slow connections to work from home.
To tackle these issues, she said the council partners with government agencies and other nonprofit organizations to coordinate efforts. The main goals are business retention, expansion and recruitment. The big advantage Island County boasts is a high quality of life, she said.
“A lot of people want to live here,” she said.
She said she looks forward to the challenges that will be presented while she develops both over-arching and regional strategies. She plans to continue meeting with stakeholders, city and county officials and community members to receive input and identify other needs. The task of weighing a multitude of opinions and creating a framework for the council that benefits the whole county isn’t daunting to her.
“I’ve been down on the ground in really tough situations,” she said. “It doesn’t scare me.”