By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
Months of effort on the part of Sky Valley mayors and chambers of commerce came to naught last month, when an application to win state designation of the area as an innovation zone for outdoor recreation equipment manufacture was denied.
For several years the city of Sultan has been working with multiple agencies and cities in the interest of furthering economic development throughout the Sky Valley. One of the ways they hoped to do this was through the establishment of an outdoor recreation-themed Innovation Partnership Zone called Port-to-Pass.
That designation gives related businesses incentive to locate within a certain area, which is meant to lead to synergy and therefore economic development. Examples include Walla Walla, which has an IPZ around wineries, and the Everett area, which has an IPZ around aerospace.
The cities involved presented the Port-to-Pass proposal to the Washington State Department of Commerce in mid-September. In a brief phone call on Sept. 30, the department announced it would not designate the Sky Valley Port-to-Pass initiative as an Innovation Partnership Zone at this time.
The agencies involved in the proposed IPZ included the cities of Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar, Index and Skykomish. Everett Community College was a partner, as well as the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce, GROW Washington, Snohomish County Parks and Outdoor Adventures in Index. These agencies, along with several others, meet on a monthly basis as the Sky Valley Recreation Group.
Preliminary discussion shared by the department indicated that a key issue with Port-to-Pass was the lack of a four-year university research and development component.
“We do have Everett Community College and their affiliation with Central (Washington University),” said Eslick. “It wasn’t good enough for their committee.”
The department will provide written notification further explaining where other trouble areas may have been with the initiative.
Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick said that this does not mean that their work promoting recreation as a vehicle for the valley’s economic development will stop.
“We are still moving forward with it,” said Eslick.
“We’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue going forward,” said Sultan City Administrator Ken Walker. “We will reapply in two years and we will address the deficiencies that were identified.”
Port-to-Pass is an idea that was initially developed by Sultan City volunteer Ted Jackson, partly in response to the 2009 closing of the Reiter Foothills. Jackson went to work seeking funding to reopen the trails, and the Sky Valley Recreation Group began meeting. Jackson then began to lay the groundwork for the Port-to-Pass initiative.
The concept is to capitalize on all that the Sky Valley as to offer in the outdoor recreation arena, inviting manufacturing firms to the valley where research and development could occur in their backyard.
“The idea is to create a sustainable economy in outdoor recreation manufacturing and frost it with outdoor recreation tourism,” said Jackson.
The IPZ program was created in 2007 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire. One of the main objectives of the program is to promote cluster development and strategic collaboration to create new products and technology, leading to the creation of new businesses and sustainable jobs. The method is meant to help encourage and incubate start-up companies in an effort to bring together both industry and community.
There are currently over 15 IPZs in Washington.
Some of the benefits of IPZ designation include a distinct advantage when seeking federal funds or other grant money and future funding potential through the state of Washington.
The next opportunity to apply for designation will be in 2015.
Walker stated that the IPZ is all about improving the quality of life for Sky Valley residents.
“The biggest part of quality of life is jobs and opportunities,” said Walker. “We definitely want to go forward.”