Study suggests Kitsap plug in to teleworking

POULSBO — Most local commuters are actually paying more to live in Kitsap County than they would be living closer to work, a recent study shows.

Last week, teleworking consultant Mike Bookey presented the preliminary findings of the Kitsap Public Utilities District Telework Study to a meeting of the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council (KREDC) telecommunications committee. The document, which was expected to be delivered in its final format to the KPUD Tuesday, is authored by the University of Washington Center for Internet Studies and Bookey’s firm Pachena Light.

Teleworking may soon get its first trials in the Kitsap Peninsula at the Olympic College Poulsbo branch campus at Olhava. The program would create experimental work space at the campus to collect real world data on the effectiveness of home offices and remote work environments. The technology would be available to OC through its connection to the KPUD fiber optic backbone.

“People are muddling through (teleworking) right now but if we provided a training environment could we help them through it?” Bookey suggested at the July 10 meeting.

Boeing has expressed interest in being among the first to try the Poulsbo training facility. The aerospace company’s goal is to reduce its facility footprint by 25 percent and it may be able to do so offering teleworking for its approximately 400 informational workers who live in Jefferson, Clallam and Kitsap Counties.

“Boeing has come to the conclusion that people generate revenue, buildings don’t,” Bookey explained.

But before the OC experiment could go forward, the KPUD initiated the study to find out the social, financial and workplace costs of Kitsap County commuters working in the Seattle area and beyond and whether teleworking could cut down on those costs.

“For Kitsap to be competitive, we have to be able to ship not just goods but ideas and (teleworking) is a way to ship ideas,” said Zoltan Szigethy, outgoing executive director of the KREDC.

The study uses figures from sources like the 2000 Census, real estate listing services, interviews with public and private organizations and Kitsap and King County metro transit data.

Among the findings were that:

•The annual commute cost for cars is $7,848 for Bainbridge to Seattle; $10,756 for Poulsbo to Seattle; and $10,285 for Kingston to Paine Field.

•The annual commute cost for walk-ons is $1,900 for Bainbridge to Seattle; $2,800 for Poulsbo to Seattle; and $4,795 Kingston to Paine Field.

•Auto Ferry commute time is 3.33 hours round trip for Bainbridge to Seattle; 3.83 hours round trip for Poulsbo to Seattle; and 4 hours round trip for Kingston to Paine Field.

“You can live in Ellensburg and get to Seattle faster and probably more reliably,” Bookey said of the commute costs and times.

“Kitsap is an excellent forum for the trial of true teleworking because the workers are truly committed to making this work because of the commute time involved,” added David Halvorson, an e-biz strategist with Boeing.

Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern said he felt that many people in Kitsap County consider the cost of commuting a small price to pay for lower housing prices. However, Bookey’s study also found the median house price is $374,000 for Bainbridge Island; $253,000 for Poulsbo; $175,000 for Kingston; $270,000 for Hansville; and $282,000 for King County.

Basically, Stern said, the savings in Kitsap County is not as significant as many may think. Adding the commute costs, most commuters are either paying more, or just barely saving money over living close to work.

“I think it’s a warning shot that we need to stay proactive about our fate and not assume it’s just going to come to us,” Stern said.

Besides being a savings to commuters, the study concludes that there are other benefits to allowing teleworking to take place said Chris Coward of the University of Washington. Some of those benefits include less traffic (which amounts to less air pollution, less congestion on roads and less strain on emergency services for accident response) and added support for communities, especially financially.

A greater number of people like place-bound seniors, handicapped individuals and even new parents would also be able to be added to the potential employee pool.

“There’s lots of flexibility and it opens the doors to workers who usually would be a strain on the company,” Coward said.

Stern said while there is a greater good for the study and possible teleworking trials for Kitsap County and possibly beyond, he also sees a benefit to Poulsbo itself. He said teleworking creates family-wage jobs in the community, and could be a benefit for the Olhava development’s future.

“It’s a help with the Wal-Mart type argument that retail, lower wage jobs are not the solution, they’re the problem. This whole approach could be an answer to all of it,” Stern said. “Whether Wal-Mart comes in or not, what happens in the future is still in our hands. Why not favor an office park and not big box at Olhava?”

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