Port of South Whidbey OKs over $23,000 in economic development grants

Port of South Whidbey commissioners on Tuesday agreed to dish out over $23,000 in economic development grants.

The money was awarded to eight different community groups and organizations by an unanimous 3-0 vote during the board’s regularly scheduled monthly business meeting. As is almost always the case, it was the port’s best attended meeting of the year.

“It always is,” said Commissioner Curt Gordon, in a later interview.

The port has for years budgeted $20,000 annually for organizations with projects or events that generate economic development, the primary function of port districts. The commissioners say these grants, while small — $1,000-$5,000 — are a shot in the arm that can make a big difference to island tourism.

One of 2017’s biggest recipients, for example, is the Freeland Chamber of Commerce. It was awarded $5,000 for its annual tourism brochure. They are placed on both Whidbey ferries and other strategic locations around Western Washington.

Last year, the chamber had 40,000 printed, 37,500 of which were picked up at stands.

“They have a lot of distribution,” chamber President Chet Ross said.

Another $5,000 went to the Island Shakespeare Festival for promotional materials and distribution. According to data provided by the organization, information the port requires for consideration, nearly 4,100 people attended the event last year: 592 were from Seattle, 804 “from 50-plus miles away,” 535 from out of state, and 87 visitors from other countries.

“We also drew 923 visitors from North Whidbey and beyond,” the festival’s grant application said. “We estimated… that each non-local patron spent approximately $230 during an overnight stay. That means last year Island Shakespeare Festival helped generate $576,610 in additional spending in Langley and the environs.”

The Clinton Chamber of Commerce received $3,800 for its visitor brochure, which is distributed similarly to the Freeland chamber; the Whidbey Island Arts Council got $3,000 for off-island advertising and promotion; $2,500 went to the Whidbey Island Conservation District for its website and brochure; the Whidbey Island Garden Tour was awarded $2,000 for signage; South Whidbey Assembly of God got $1,010 for its annual Celebrate America event, paying for portable bathrooms; and $1,000 went the Northwest Language &Cultural Center for marketing for educational vacation marketing.

The total tab came out to $23,310, several thousand more than the $20,000 budgeted. Port Commissioner Ed Halloran, who is also the board president, said the projects were all so good that the board agreed to green light them all.

“We had a debate about it, and decided the extra $3,300 was doable from a budget standpoint,” Halloran said. “We had some really good candidates so we stepped up.”

Each of the grant requestors was required to submit an application outlining their requests, how the money would be spent and what benefit it provides South Whidbey. Those organizations that were awarded funds, in this case all of them, are also required to provide the port with data later showing how money contributed to economic development on South Whidbey.

Halloran said it’s a great way to judge a group’s effectiveness, but also makes it easy to feel good about providing additional grant money when they are successful.

“When you come in asking for money, and you show results from last year, it’s pretty hard not to give them some money,” he said.

According to Angi Mozer, executive director for the port, the state audits the district every three years and regulators found no issue with grant awards the last time they were checked the books.

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