Each year, the Port of Walla Walla with input from the Port’s economic development advisory committee, cities, county and other organizations interested in economic development produce an annual economic development plan for Walla Walla County. The goal is to enhance the economic vitality of Walla Walla County through the creation and retention of family-wage jobs.
Through this column, we want to share our six-point economic development plan for 2013.
Small Business Development
Small businesses create the vast majority of new jobs in the United States.
We are pleased to report the WSU Small Business Center is now open in its new office at the Walla Walla Regional Airport terminal. The Port provides office space and a $10,000 annual contribution to the center, which is focused on free one-on-one small business counseling.
In addition, the Port hosts on its website “Small Business Tools” (wallawalla.toolsforbusiness.info) for businesses that want web-based small business development information and support.
Existing Business Retention/Expansion
In 2012, the Port met with some 38 local businesses. The purpose of the visits was to thank them for doing business in Walla Walla County, obtain information related to their future business needs and identify issues that impede their business growth.
These meetings are useful and always insightful, and the Port is committed to continuing its business outreach efforts. Working to retain and/or strengthen our existing businesses is critical to any well balanced economic development plan.
Recruiting new businesses is a highly competitive proposition with multiple communities and states often vying for the same business. Some may question, is it worth it? We believe it is.
In 2003, the Port recruited the Cliffstar juice processing plant to Walla Walla. Today it is the 47th largest employer in the county with 60 jobs.
In 2006, the Port recruited the Railex produce distribution center. In addition to its positive economic impacts of shipping Pacific Northwest produce to East Coast markets, Railex today is the ninth largest property taxpayer in the county,paying $216,000 annually with over 80 jobs.
In 2012, the Port assisted Railex in the recruitment of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ new $18 million, 500,000-square-foot wine distribution warehouse to Walla Walla County.
These examples make it clear that business recruitment should be part of our economic development strategy even though we may not be successful in any one given year.
Site and Infrastructure Development
Progressive communities are continuously reinvesting in their infrastructure. In 2013, the Port has set aside approximately $6 million in its annual capital budget for infrastructure improvements.
The majority of the infrastructure improvements will take place at the Port’s Dodd Road Industrial Park, Burbank Business Park and Waitsburg Business Park.
These proposed improvements will provide the necessary infrastructure for potential recruitment opportunities and new business development.
The 2013 Economic Development Plan also contains a listing of proposed city infrastructure investments along with Walla Walla County infrastructure investments.
Having a clear understanding of the community’s demographics is essential in understanding the weaknesses and strengths of a particular community.
The Port’s (portwallawalla.com) and Walla Walla Trends (wallawallatrends.ewu.edu) websites are excellent examples of our effort to provide timely extensive economic and social demographic information.
The Port is committed to maintaining and updating these community resources in fiscal year 2013.
Economic Development Advocacy
The Port believes it is important to communicate to the public and our elected officials the value of maintaining and developing pro economic development policies for the Walla Walla Valley.
This includes working with our local cities and county on timely permitting of projects and overall policies that portray Walla Walla County as a good place to do business.
If you would like a more complete copy of the Port’s 2013 economic development plan, please contact the Port office at 509-525-3100 or visit our website at portwallawalla.com.
We would also like to encourage any citizen interested in economic development to attend our bi-monthly Economic Development Advisory Committee meetings.
Paul Gerola is the economic development director for the Port of Walla Walla.