Port of Walla Walla to put focus on jobs

The agency laid out its priorities for 2011, chief among them being job retention and development.

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WALLA WALLA -- The creation of a rural institute for entrepreneurship, promotion of online tools for small-business operators and the retention and expansion of jobs that pay at least $12.50 an hour are part of the focus of the Port of Walla Walla's 2011 Economic Development Plan.

Coming off a year with noticeably fewer business leads, the economic development agency is focusing on job retention and development in the new year, officials say.

Port staff members presented a six-point plan for enhancing the economic health of Walla Walla County during a Tuesday Economic Development Advisory Committee meeting. The plan was officially adopted Thursday afternoon by the three-member Port Commission.

The retention and creation of living-wage jobs -- a mission of the Valley's lead economic development agency -- is the central theme of the plan, which also includes benchmarks for achieving each goal.

Port Economic Development Director Paul Gerola presented the plan to about 60 business representatives from a swath of industries during the Tuesday meeting.

He said the organization will continue its focus on sustainable manufacturing and service-related jobs that pay a target wage of $12.50 per hour plus benefits.

Port officials said business leads dropped considerably last year due to the economy. Consequently, Port commissioners wanted staff to largely focus on business retention. That includes continue work with the Washington State Penitentiary Task Force on retaining corrections jobs and exploring expansion opportunities.

The organization also plans to work closely with a local veterans committee and congressional delegation on the new veterans health clinic in the works for Walla Walla.

Other endeavors: Work with Walla Walla Community College and the Washington State Department of Commerce in creation of an Institute for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Leadership at the Walla Walla Community College campus. That organization would serve rural communities in Washington and provide a small-business assistance center. The agency also plans to work to secure federal and/or state appropriations for a regional water system in Wallula.

Those and numerous other goals were detailed in six categories: small-business development; existing business retention/expansion; business recruitment, marketing and advertising; site and infrastructure development; economic profiling; and economic development advocacy.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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