Future looks rosy for North Kitsap economic leaders

PORT GAMBLE — It’s time to shine, North Kitsap.

According to the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance and many area employers, the businesses and organizations of the north end have provided an economic boost through a tough recession, and show no signs of slowing down.

KEDA hosted an economic conference Thursday — “North Kitsap at a Crossroads: An Economy in Transition.” Industry and community leaders gathered in Port Gamble to examine “today’s economic activities and exploring trends that will shape the next generation of economic conditions and opportunities in North Kitsap,” according to a KEDA press release.

North Kitsap has approximately one-third of the county’s population, and there are more than 4,000 licensed businesses in the north end, according to KEDA.

John Powers, executive director of KEDA, said many of those businesses are leaders in the county and the state. Kitsap employment is more robust than the state’s, Powers said, partly due to the “steady-eddie component” — defense.

All federal departments and programs are looking at a potential cuts next year, because of an automatic $1.2 trillion spending cut “trigger” in January. The Congressional Supercommittee, tasked with preventing the U.S. budget from defaulting from the dept-ceiling crisis in 2011, has so far failed to come to a consensus.

Gene Knoll, site manager at Keyport for Long Wave Inc., a communications company that contracts with the military, said what may save Kitsap's naval bases is its longstanding defense structure.

“Positioned where we are, and what we do here in Kitsap County … we're not going to be totally safe from any cuts that will happen, but I think they're going to look at less mission-directed areas [to cut spending] than us here locally,” he said.

Meaning, construction on the second explosives-handling wharf at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor will continue to add to the workforce, and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton provides one of the largest dry docks for carrier work in the Navy.

One of North Kitsap's largest employers is Port Madison Enterprises, the business arm of the Suquamish Tribe. CEO Russell Steele said when he arrived in 2001, the company had 270 employees and 90 percent of its revenue came from the Clearwater Casino. Now, the tribal enterprise employs 800 and has diversified its business.

Steele said they are focusing on property management along the State Route 305 corridor, Sandy Hook Road area and downtown Suquamish. PME Construction has grown through government contracts. In fact, some of the challenges the company is facing are job openings — Port Madison Enterprises has 30 open positions.

Others speakers included a manufacturing report from Anna Reyes-Potts of Trulife, a prosthetic device company in Poulsbo; the healthcare industry by Scott Bosch, President and CEO of Harrison Medical Center; and information technology by Jim Nall, president and CEO of Paladin Data Systems in Poulsbo.

The conference was kicked off by Elizabeth Court, labor market economist for the state's Employment Security Department. Court said as a county, Kitsap is at an advantage — the number of adults with an associate's or bachelor's degree is above the state and national average.

However, 26 percent of Kitsap residents commute, and the county has a higher older population, close to retirement age.

And while production is up, the number of workers in the county is down. Unemployment in Kitsap is lower than the state, at 7.7 percent in August, but as technology becomes cheaper, more employers are forgoing high labor costs (such as benefits) for new technology or equipment.

Powers said the conference also provided an opportunity to introduce the 2013 Leadership Kitsap class.

Leadership Kitsap is a nonprofit organization that offers a year-long educational program for community leaders. Thirty residents from a variety of backgrounds including finance, construction, education, government, health care, tribes and others collaborate on community projects and examine public policy challenges to create change, according to their website.

Powers said this was the first time KEDA took a look at a particular geographic area of the county. After being in his position for one year, he said the businesses and organizations he's dealt with are "reaffirming my belief there's a lot of upside opportunities in [North] Kitsap."

KEDA will host its annual economic forecast conference in January, an overview of the entire county's economy.


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