We are in charge of our community’s destiny
June 2016 - Recently, I have heard many people in our community say they hope for a large company to swoop into our area and become our community hero. I have been guilty of thinking this myself, “if only we could attract this business or that chain restaurant, more people will come to the Harbor.”
While in Tacoma last month, our staff met with Ricardo Noguera, Director of the Community and Economic Development Department for the City of Tacoma. He talked about the need for cities to create infrastructure and incentives to attract new business. In order to do this, Ricardo suggested a community should first take stock of all its assets and become intimately acquainted with them. In Tacoma, for example, they showed us how organizations and businesses partnered to create livable spaces and places for folks to gather to increase community participation and engagement. In many cases, they targeted old, abandoned buildings and less attractive areas to transform and change the look and feel of the city. This strategy was also something that we learned from the University of Washington graduate students in their report presented at a recent Greater Grays Harbor Business Forum, Community Economic Development in Grays Harbor County.
Both groups emphasized the importance of creating and highlighting the positive stories in our community as a strategy to attract new businesses. An analogy I heard while speaking with a community member in Tacoma was that of starting a dating relationship. Few partners are looking to meet a glum, negative person. When people are dating they normally spruce themselves up and highlight their strengths more than their weaknesses. They look for ways to make themselves a viable suitor.
I believe we are well on our way to improving our area with the new Gateway Center project. The Gateway Center will integrate many of our services and provide a one stop shop for new businesses looking to relocate or start a business in Grays Harbor. The Gateway Center will represent an amalgamation of organizations including potential partners such as Grays Harbor County, Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. (Regional Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Council), Small Business Development Center, and an area for Visitor Information Services. Furthermore, we can invite multiple agencies throughout Grays Harbor to meet in our new community spaces and provide a hub for people to both work and play in our downtown core area.
I also believe we have several abandoned buildings and unattractive areas with enormous potential to occupy and improve the look and feel of Aberdeen, Hoquiam, and Grays Harbor, in general. By following Tacoma’s lead and strategically targeting key areas – such as our downtown corridors - we can build a unique community. And, eventually we will attract those new businesses and industries from outside the region, encouraging them as a result of our own community led efforts.
Economic revitalization is a long journey that takes time and hard work, but as with any journey, it starts with a first step. By following a targeted, incremental approach, small successes can add up and eventually spawn substantial results. The momentum that is created from these results can help generate increased awareness and interest from investors. New businesses and industries will eventually come but they will only come once we make ourselves attractive enough for them to notice.