Opinion

Mayor’s beat | Economic forums are worthy endevor

“Instead of having more discussions about the economy why don’t we just do something to make it better? The city has undertaken these kinds of processes in the past; why should I come again to another forum meeting now?”

These are questions that are being currently asked in Langley, but before addressing these questions let’s focus on one of the essential purposes of the economic forums: What can be done to attract young people and families to Whidbey Island.

What can we do to encourage young individuals, some with families, to return here after college or trade school? With the median age on South Whidbey having increased over the last several decades to 52, let’s consider why a young person or family might choose to locate here. First and foremost, before affordable housing and quality of life issues, there need to be employment opportunities. This is the point where we ask ourselves what sort of work they would do here and what it would pay.

A recent study, “Economic Trends in the Port of South Whidbey” by BST Associates, contains some interesting data that addresses this question. Sector data indicated that the average annual wage in 2012 in Island County was $34,782 — about $17 per hour. Many in Langley, however, are not making that and are employed in the accommodation, food service, arts, entertainment, and recreation sectors where the average salaries ranged from $15,324 to $15,944 in 2012. This is about half the average wage in Island County. Is this a wage that a young family can exist on in our community? If not, then what are they going to have to do to have sufficient income to live here?

If you work in manufacturing, the average wage increases to $44,367. If you are a knowledge worker, like a handful of Langley families, the average wage rises to $78,091. There is no question this is a sustainable family wage. What does a knowledge worker do in Langley? Some work in telecommunications, or map other parts of the world remotely with GPS and computers, or produce material for Hollywood productions, or create videos for successful business marketing, or create software solutions for business and government, or create plans for infrastructure and land use. There is a core of young families who have relocated here because they have the sustainable income to do so.

One of our purposes is to share ideas for supporting our economy and existing businesses with sharing good fundamental business practices and having both a physical and virtual presence in the marketplace. So an answer may lie not just in enticing young people and families to come here because it is a desirable place to live with good schools and child care for their children. The essential question is: How do we diversify our job opportunities to have work available that pays in all wage-range sectors? Knowledge workers can locate anywhere that has powerful broadband computing capacity. We are that kind of place. We already have co-working spaces for lease at very reasonable prices. There are so many other desirable amenities, qualities, people, and values here.

So what are the purposes of the economic forums? One is to determine how we grow and support the creation of family-wage jobs and invite people from diverse backgrounds to come here. Obviously there are related jobs that will accompany such a transformation like education, finance, professional, and technical services. But the work base has to exist first before these ancillary employment opportunities will materialize into a sustainable, long-term, diversified employment base.

The third economic forum is scheduled for Nov. 12 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Langley Methodist Church. We’d like to invite everyone who has attended the last two forums to return and anyone with ideas for the future of Langley to come as well. We are looking for creative ideas. You might have the idea that will move us forward. Your presence will be valued and appreciated.

Sincerely,

Fred McCarthy

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