For candidate Kilmer, ‘jobs’ the magic word

“Meet Derek Kilmer. His job is creating jobs.”

The catchy slogan headlining Derek Kilmer’s campaign literature, framed in the obligatory red, white and blue, is catching the attention of Peninsula business owners and residents, alike.

With the culmination of his first-ever run for political office just weeks away, Kilmer has taken to the streets, knocking on doors, chatting it up, handing out his political wares. He said it is the issues faced by regular people that serve as his vision.

“The reasons I’m running are the issues that come up at every single door,” Kilmer said.

Kilmer, a Democrat running against Republican Lois McMahan for her seat in the state House of Representatives, said doorbelling has been an eye-opening experience.

Through the process he said he met both an elderly woman who must choose between food and medicine because money’s so tight and a man who can’t find a job, who’s unemployment is set to run out and who had several children with one on the way.

“Sometimes you introduce yourself...and that’s it,” Kilmer said. “It takes five minutes. (But) sometimes you walk away a changed person. You think, ‘This is America, and we can do better.’ ”

Jobs are at the top of Kilmer’s priority list. Serving as a business retention manager for the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County, Kilmer’s day job really is creating local jobs.

He said that after meeting with over 200 business owners last year, he was shocked to learn the biggest problem facing area businesses is a lack of qualified workers.

“When I meet with businesses, I always start by asking, ‘How’s business?’ ” Kilmer said. “Then I ask, ‘What’s giving you heartburn?’ What’s giving them heartburn is a lack of workers. ’”

According to Kilmer, Washington state has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the country, yet 45 percent of Washington employers had trouble finding qualified applicants in 2003.

“There’s clearly a disconnect,” Kilmer said. “It’s bad for business (and) it’s going to get worse.”

Kilmer’s background in economic development and job retention started early. He grew up in Port Angeles, earned his bachelor’s degree in public policy from Princeton University, then studied economic policy and received his doctorate at the University of Oxford, in England.

Now, at 30, Kilmer is a trustee at Tacoma Community College and said he believes focusing on education is a pathway to more and better regional jobs. Along with better healthcare and transportation, education and job retention are areas that hold Kilmer’s focus going into the election.

Transportation is a special priority, since Kilmer said he is one of thousands who wait on State Route 16 every day.

“If there’s one committee I want to be on in Olympia, it’s the transportation committee,” Kilmer said. “I think that on too many of our transportation challenges (the Peninsula) is getting the short end of the stick.”

However, for Kilmer, “jobs” is the word that will pull South Kitsap out of its economic funk.

“I think the best social service is a job,” Kilmer said. “I think we’re at a critical stage in the state of Washington.”

Without economic stimulation, Kilmer said, the state will be in serious trouble.

“I’ve often said, ‘By the grace of God and Bill Gates’ parents we have Boeing and Microsoft in this state,’” Kilmer laughed.

Kilmer praised Port Orchard’s revitalization team for trying to stimulate its downtown economy and said he hoped to be the team’s partner at the state level.

“We need leaders who are focused on these issues,” Kilmer said. “I think one of the things holding back our state is that it’s too partisan.”

According to Kilmer, too many elected officials look to the left or the right instead of forward.

“I am willing to focus on forward,” Kilmer said. “You have to be able to work across party lines.”

As of the beginning of the month, Kilmer was endorsed by over 70 organizations and community officials, but he said he’s not running to collect endorsements.

“At the end of the day you do this because you want to help your local community,” Kilmer said. “(Job retention) is not just a campaign issue to me. It’s how I’ve spent my time.”

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