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Bill Stewart, executive director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, is retiring

Bill Stewart, executive director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance for three years, has announced his intent to retire at the end of September.

“My wife and I made this decision for personal reasons,” Stewart said in an announcement.  “I have truly enjoyed my time managing KEDA, and I am committed to further strengthening it before my tenure ends.”

Stewart, a former Eastern Washington newspaper publisher, came to KEDA after years with the state doing economic development work at CTED, which has since been renamed the Department of Commerce. The organization said it has made great strides under Stewart’s leadership, especially in the area of government contracting to local businesses, keeping more than $48 million in U.S. Navy and other government contract work from leaving Kitsap County in 2010. The organization regularly puts on classes for local businesses to learn how to get involved with selling to the Navy and other government organizations.

As sales opportunities have continued to diminish for many local employers during the economic downturn, KEDA has stepped up its efforts to connect businesses with the training and technical assistance they need to successfully sell to government entities, particularly the Navy — which has helped many local residents keep their existing jobs. New business development opportunities are focusing on other domestic markets as well as export sales.

KEDA has also been heavily involved with recruiting companies to come to Kitsap. It recently scored a big win by helping lure Profile Composites, a company that holds a patent for, and manufactures, a unique, lightweight, collapsible wheelchair made of composite materials, to the Port of Bremerton.

Elliot Gregg, president and CEO of Kitsap Credit Union and KEDA’s chairman of the board, said he accepted Stewart’s announcement with regret. “For the past three years, Bill’s knowledge and connections have provided us with one of the most effective periods for KEDA and its predecessor organization, the Kitsap Economic Development Council.”

The search for a new executive director will begin in earnest this summer, Gregg said, with the goal of completing the selection process prior to Stewart’s departure at the end of September, and Stewart will be involved in the selection of his replacement,

Stewart said he is very pleased with the development of the organization and its performance over the past three years, despite the difficult economic environment. “Effective economic development demands that the public and private sectors come together and stay committed for the long haul,” said Stewart. “I’m very optimistic about the future economic health of the Kitsap Peninsula, because of the strong leadership participation from business and government alike. Our membership base is very strong, and it continues to grow.”

Currently, KEDA has more private sector members than ever before — even in the worse economic climate since the Great Depression. Stewart said he believes the focus of KEDA’s work should continue to be supporting local employers, particularly in helping them access new customers and markets.  “When companies have business, employees have work. It’s as simple, and as complex, as that.”

He added that as KEDA continues to improve its market development activities and the local business climate, the organization will also be better positioned to win more business recruitment projects such as Profile Composites.

“KEDA is on a strong course both in its growth of public and private membership, as well as its effectiveness,” Stewart said. “As we come slowly out of the economic downturn, KEDA and the Kitsap economy will be stronger for it.”

For more information on KEDA, and its activities on behalf of local business, visit www.kitsapeda.org

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