Business

More gloom than doom from economic experts

"Central Kitsap ReporterWith broadband cables, a little entrepreneurial elbow grease and congestion along the Interstate 5 corridor, Kitsap County could become the next Bellevue.That's the future some of Washington's top economic minds forecast at the second annual Economic Development Council of Kitsap County's Decision Makers breakfast Jan. 12 at the Silverdale Hotel.At times, the picture was so sunny one could forget Bremerton, with 52 percent of its population below the poverty line and infrastructure crumbling, was only 21 miles south down the highway.But not for long. In a review of Kitsap County economic trends, Silvia Klatman, the Economic Development Council's (EDC) director of retention and expansion, painted a grim picture of increasing population, stagnant job development and lower than average wages.We are like the Mississippi of Washington, she said about the county's second-to-last status in entrepreneurship. Kevin Dwyer, director of business recruitment and marketing for the EDC, agreed that 1999 was an up and down year for local businesses. The county was turned down for a financial services call center that would have brought 1,000 new jobs. At the same time, it got in the hunt for another call center with 500 potential jobs.Dreary as the current state of affairs may be, guest speaker Kathy Wilcox said the troubles simply define a basement for development. That's your platform, that's your bottom. You have no place to go but up, Wilcox, the president of Washington Software Alliance, told the 225 businesspersons and politicians.To climb the economic ladder, Kitsap County should hedge its bets against the Manhattanization of Seattle and increasing congestion on the east side. With Bremerton office space selling for about 10 percent of Seattle space and Green Lake bungalows selling for more than $200,000, economic wizards said Kitsap County has a lot to offer in proximity and affordability.I am convinced that the spillover effect is coming, said Michael Parks, publisher and president of Marples Business Newsletter. He called Kitsap County's proximity to Puget Sound's booming high technology industry ground zero for the biggest revolution of my lifetime.No discussion of the county's chances to capitalize on the Microsoft millions would be complete without at least some mention of the troubled Washington State Ferries system and Initiative 695. On that score, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee said big boats are a critical key to widening the county's economic horizons. And perhaps sounding the most optimistic of all, Inslee said the ferries are necessary not only for Kitsap Peninsula residents commuting to the Emerald City for jobs, but for the reverse.The future, in some sense, is people coming from East Sound to Kitsap for jobs, Inslee said.Though speakers tipped their hats to Washington's most famous entrepreneurs--Bill Boeing, Bill Gates and Paul Allen--they were loathe to give the state credit for retaining their business. Instead, Davis and Wilcox chalked up Boeing and Microsoft's Puget Sound presence to dumb luck. They reasoned Boeing stayed in Washington, and high-tech giants moved here, despite the state's taxes and constitutional provision against government incentives. But other corporations could find those two hurdles insurmountable. I don't believe in causality, said Washington Research Council president Richard Davis after claiming businesses pay 47 percent of the state's taxes. But Washington has the fourth-highest business failure rate in the U.S.In the end, the breakfast was about possibilities despite the hurdles. I have never been so optimistic about this little corner of the world, Parks said."

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