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Major restructuring of Kitsap Economic Development Council

In 1983 the Kitsap Economic Development Council , then later renamed the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council, was formed with the purpose of helping to stimulate the Kitsap County economy and bring businesses to the area. But in recent years the KEDC seems to have languished, and the organization has been criticized as being ineffective. Some have even gone so far as to call the organization useless.

The abrupt departure of executive director David Porter — who had been seen by some as the answer to the beleaguered organization’s problems when he came on board in 2003 — only seemed to intensify the scrutiny, and shortly after his departure, the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council funded an evaluation, known as Kitsap 20/20, into how economic development was handled in Kitsap County — including the role that KEDC would play in the future.

“KEDC [was] noted as one of the primary players in economic development, but other organizations and agencies were also discussed,” said KEDC’s interim executive director, Kathy Cocus, who was on the committee that oversaw the evaluation, along with four KEDC board members. “KEDC’s evaluation of the organization was based on our desire to be good economic development partners.”

Outside consulting firm, the Athena Institute of Bellevue, was reportedly paid $77,000 to conduct this evaluation, causing some controversy among locals who felt an economic evaluation of the county should be handled by an in-county consultant. But the selection of a non-Kitsap County company was just a coincidence, said Cocus.

“The consultant was selected from an initial pool of 14 candidates by the Kitsap 20/20 steering committee, made up of KRCC board members, KEDC board members and representatives from WSU and Olympic College, and the project staff team — representatives from KEDC, KRCC, Port of Bremerton, KCCHA and City of Bremerton,” said Cocus. “Members of the Kitsap 20/20 Steering Committee and Project Staff Team were asked to make recommendations. Four of those recommendations received were from Kitsap County.”

Costs for the consultant’s contract were shared by each KRCC member jurisdiction, according to Cocus.

As a result of this evaluation, “economic development initiatives that were consistent with input from one-on-one interviews and roundtables with Kitsap community and opinion leaders as well as steering committee members were reviewed and vetted by the steering committee,” said Cocus. “Those initiatives form the foundation for private sector and public sector work plans.”

These economic initiatives, known as the Kitsap 20/20 Initiatives, were unveiled at the KEDC’s Decisionmaker’s Breakfast in February. The list of 21 initiatives include enhanced health care, innovation in housing, four-year education, workforce development and enhanced business retention and expansion .

Two of the major, immediate changes to the Kitsap Economic Development Council are a new name and a significant re-structuring of its board.

“The organization’s new name will be the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance ,” said Cocus. “Kitsap 20/20 revealed that there is much to be done by both the public and private sectors for economic development. In that light, the new board will be made up of equal numbers of private and public sector members.”

The new name and new board composition were approved by the existing board at the organization’s February board meeting. The new board — which was voted in at the KEDA’s annual meeting and will meet for the first time this month — will now be made up of 18 private and 18 public sector members.

“The full board will meet quarterly,” said Cocus, “while a smaller executive board will meet monthly to handle the more pressing organization business and make recommendations to the full board.”

Although more oversight into the now-named KEDA will be given to the cities and counties, the organization will remain a private, non-profit organization, said former board chair Elizabeth Wilson.

“Each of the cities and the county will be funding the KEDA,” she said. “They will base this funding on initiatives from Kitsap 20/20.”

Although the public-private mix of funding for the organization will not be a major change from how it has been in the past, said Wilson, the major difference is that now everyone is on board and in agreement on the initiatives to be pursued.

“Prior initiatives weren’t agreed upon by everyone,” said Wilson. “We used to have separate contracts with different initiatives.”

Moving forward “the KEDA will expend the majority of its efforts on the private sector initiatives,” said Cocus, “with input to the public sector on their initiatives as appropriate. Additionally, the public sector will use the private sector initiatives as a measuring tool for KEDA accountability in the weeks and months to come.”

Only time will tell whether structural changes and a shiny new list of initiatives will be enough to truly revitalize this organization. But Cocus and Wilson are both looking toward the future with optimism.

“The exciting thing about Kitsap 20/20 and the changes to the KEDA are the commitments from both public and private sectors to work toward real economic development,” said Cocus. “The KEDA is encouraged by the collaborations and partnerships that have begun, been enhanced or will be discovered as we move into this next phase for economic development in Kitsap County.”.

 
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