Kitsap can have ‘amazing’ economic future, business leader says

Chris Rieland says Kitsap County has morphed into a ‘gangly teenager’ in its economic development efforts. - Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo
Chris Rieland says Kitsap County has morphed into a ‘gangly teenager’ in its economic development efforts.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo

A local business leader feels that Kitsap County is ready for economic growth and has the potential to thrive, but it won’t happen until the region sets goals and presents a better deal than its competition.

“I believe economic development is providing the ultimate challenge,” said Pacific Northwest Title Co. President Chris Rieland. “There are some amazing opportunities, but in order for us to be a major contender we need to see the bigger picture. We are not just competing with King and Pierce counties for new business. We are facing global competition from locations across the United States and overseas.”

In order to accomplish this, the county needs to determine where business shortages exist and how to create products that fill those needs.

Rieland was addressing the monthly Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Aug. 14. As the former chair of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, she has been involved in redefining the county’s economic direction.

Part of this was hiring a new executive director to fill a post that was vacant for more than a year.

Rieland said the county needs to learn from its mistakes.

“NASCAR was a tipping point,” she said. “We realized that we didn’t play well with others. We didn’t know how to have conversations between different viewpoints. So if an opportunity like this comes again, we need to be ready and ask the right questions about what we want to happen.”

Getting businesses to cooperate with each other, especially with a politically charged issue like NASCAR, is never easy. Rieland thinks that it was made more difficult by a certain degree of immature behavior.

“Not too long ago, Kitsap was like a toddler,” she said. “Today, it is more like a gangly teenager. This is a perfect metaphor, because you can’t ever tell a teenager what to do. We need to hang on to what is best in our community and work to become more mature and forward-thinking. ”

The good news in the current economy, according to Rieland, is that lenders are beginning to push back on loan applications instead of just granting them indiscriminately.

For instance, a few years ago a builder could always get money to build a house on spec, but today the local housing surplus makes building new homes a poor investment.

So the once-careless lenders are not likely to support such ventures, she said.

While Kitsap needs to offer something unique in order to attract new businesses to the region, the same process works inside the county.

Small businesses can focus on providing specific products that aren’t widely available. For instance, food service businesses are thriving, and farmers’ markets are seeing a growth spurt.

While economic development benefits the area, Rieland cautions that consumer spending is out of control.

“We have really upscale appetites,” she said. “When we see something we want, like a new Escalade, we can borrow the money to pay for it. This has led to the point where the average American spends 119 percent of their income every year. One in seven households have 10 or more active credit cards. If we are going to set this right, we need to cut back on our spending.”

In all respects, Rieland advises the county’s business community to maintain realistic expectations.

“Microsoft isn’t going to come here,” Rieland said. “We will not become Redmond. But we are going to become something amazing.”

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