PSRC’s vision would keep Kitsap a ‘bedroom’

Kitsap’s economy is heavily dependent on public and government employers. Over the past seven years, combined employment of the federal government, Harrison Hospital and Olympic College has grown from 20 percent to 38 percent of Kitsap’s total employment.

During that same period, however, Kitsap’s total employment has dropped 3 percent — unlike growing employment in Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties, the other counties represented in the Puget Sound Regional Council.

One-fourth of our workforce already migrates out of county each day for work. Kitsap is not successfully attracting or retaining private businesses.

One might expect the PSRC would develop a vision strategy enabling Kitsap to counter this trend. But that’s not the case.

PSRC’s guiding principles, as espoused it’s Vision 2040 document, reveals a marked abscence of economic incentives to bring businesses here, and actually imposes disincentives.

Indeed, Vision 2040 appears to consider Kitsap’s future not as that of an economic engine for generating jobs and wealth, but instead as one of a bedroom community for the Seattle region.

Consider the following:

• Vision 2040 was not developed by local planners under local government responding to the will of Kitsap County citizens. Instead, it is part of a regional policy developed by unelected people who live elsewhere and are purposed to tell us how we will live.

• Vision 2040 restricts nearly all available land out of the reach of commercial development. Our county’s current comprehensive land-use plan already drastically limits the combined land available to new businesses and industry to 1.2 percent of Kitsap’s total area.

• Of this, only 0.4 percent is outside of the South Kitsap Industrial Area (SKIA). Vision 2040 will further restrict where new businesses can locate.

The goal is to “Concentrate a significant amount of economic growth in designated centers and connect them to each other ... ” (Ec-18)

It does not allow for additional urbanization of existing rural areas. Major new businesses would be mostly restricted to SKIA.

Such narrowing of choices can lead to higher startup costs because it eliminates lower-priced land in areas that might be better suited to operation of new businesses.

It also may make it harder for suppliers and customers to access, worsening an already serious transportation problem — Kitsap pays approximately a 7 percent penalty in transportation costs because of its geographic isolation,

PSRC’s economic vision doesn’t appear to consider Kitsap’s unique geography. While the concept of connected centers may be workable for the East-Sound, it does not seem applicable here.

Little of our workforce lives in close proximity to their jobs. Only a small percentage could effectively use mass transit for their daily commute. Only one highway ties us to the main transportation network of the state and most of the county has no effective rail service. Most of the county is isolated by single road or single bridge access.

Many locations are vulnerable to isolation by failure of a single road. Our ferry system carries cost and time penalties and is inadequate to efficiently move goods across Puget Sound.

These deficiencies are the result of policies in which environmental and aesthetic values trump economic values. They actually work against the very goals the Vision promotes, especially in Kitsap.

Environmental quality generally follows economic prosperity, not the other way round. Communities that suffer economically also experience blight and environmental degradation.

When regulations and taxation excessively drive up costs of doing business, companies who have a choice locate elsewhere.

This state already has a poor reputation for attracting business and experiences an unusually high failure rate of business startups.

PSRC planners seem blind to the lessons of Boeing and other businesses who have left the area or who have chosen other states to plant their startups. PSRC’s policies are especially wrong for Kitsap County.

With already unfriendly regulatory policies, and with more to come in PSRC’s regional planning, is there any doubt why few “discover” Kitsap as a home for their business?

A friendly regulatory climate is essential to real economic growth. We need county development regulations that stress “How can we really help,” rather than “How do we make sure you’re the kind of business we want.”

Rather than restrictive land-use policies that make housing unaffordable to a workforce, we need policies that minimize regulatory costs on new development.

Vision 2040 uses the term “family-wage jobs,” as if government and not the marketplace determines businesses and their wages.

Of course every community would like to have companies with high-paying jobs. But emphasis should be on attracting value-added businesses that generate new wealth remaining in the area.

Does Vision 2040 encourage such value-added businesses to come to Kitsap? The answer is clearly no.

Do we want new jobs in the county or should we be a bedroom community to east Puget Sound? Consider Kitsap’s future tax base and what is already happening to the tax burdens of homeowners.

Shouldn’t Kitsap make the decision rather than PSRC? As things stand, Vision 2040 will almost certainly insure a bedroom community future.

And if the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard closes some day, this may well be all we have to look forward to.

Karl Duff is a Port Orchard resident.

He serves as president of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners.

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