SEED plan called 'ambitious,' 'risky'

If the Port of Bremerton is serious about developing a green technology business incubator in its South Kitsap Industrial Area, it had better start soon and it better not cut corners.

That was the conclusion reached by Seattle-based Berk and Associates, which on Tuesday released a draft version of its analysis of the port's Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) plan.

The project has been on hold since this summer pending completion of the Berk report.

Notably, the report neither endorses the project nor rejects it. Its purpose is simply to offer an overview of the green technology industry and assess whether Kitsap County is positioned to take advantage of the opportunities it presents.

"There are real risks and challenges to be overcome," the report states, "and without a clear and unanimous commitment to the project, we recommend it not be undertaken."

Chief among those challenges, the consultant finds, is its distance from a major university or existing research facility.

"The Puget Sound region clearly needs a physical place, a center of activity, and a brand to anchor our clean technology industry," said one of the industry sources interviewed for the study. "Can Kitsap be that place? They’d certainly be coming from behind to do so, as they’re not an entrepreneurial center and they don’t have a research university in their backyard. But with the right leadership and commitment, why not?"

To overcome the site's perceived challenges, a “compelling package of attractions must be assembled for the plan to be successful in recruiting businesses to Kitsap."

Not the least of these inducements will be financial.

"The launch of a Kitsap SEED clean technology incubator is a risky and entrepreneurial effort akin to starting a business," the report's authors state. "It is likely that the incubator will need between $200,000 and $300,000 in cash subsidies of operations for several years until a steady stream of grants and sponsorships can be established and returns from equity stakes in successful clients can be realized."

And in order for the port to provide these cash subsidies, it must be committed to the success of the incubator and willing to take the financial risks presented.

If the port decides to go ahead with its plans, the report recommends hiring a director immediately to oversee the SEED project and beginning immediately to recruit potential tenants -- even before any structures are actually built to house them.

The port also needs to work on improving SEED's public image after a series of setbacks have raised doubts about its viability.

"Kitsap SEED is a good strategy for the area," said another study respondent, "but it now has higher barriers to get over because of the length of the time it’s taken to get going and the lack of traction and momentum. This has damaged people’s confidence, elicited skepticism and criticism they likely wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, and negatively impacted their brand."

Ultimately, the decision as to whether to proceed with SEED will be made by the Port of Bremerton commissioners, who will use the study as just one factor in forming their opinions.

"We cannot say whether the port should or should not go ahead with the plan in absolute terms," the study concludes, "as we find the plan to be ambitious, not unreasonable, and not without risk."

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