Community leaders talk a lot about
economic development, but what exactly is it? What can City government do
to encourage a thriving local economy? How do we make sure that our economic
development efforts match our community’s goals? And how do we know if
these activities are successful?
City officials are considering these questions and others, and we invite
you to learn more and let us know what you think. We are taking steps to
encourage existing businesses to stay and expand in our community, and
positioning the City to attract new businesses and grow in sensible,
Creating jobs and improving our quality of life
Economic development is typically described as the creation of jobs,
which improves the quality of life for all residents. The main goal of
economic development is to improve the economic and social well-being of a
community through efforts that encourage retention and creation of jobs,
enhance the tax base and improve quality of life.
There is no single strategy for successful economic development.
Partnerships among public agencies, non-profit organizations and the private
sector each contributing to a common goal are critically important to our
community’s success. As a public agency, the City must be transparent and
accountable in our actions and make choices based on information and data.
We are emphasizing activities and services that:
- Provide essential community services: Providing
timely, efficient City permitting and regulatory functions and safe,
high-quality public amenities and infrastructure are essential to
creating an environment for successful investment and development. When
we do our part to provide these services, others can make investments
that create jobs.
- Create capacity: What does a sewer treatment plant
have to do with economic development? The expansion of the Post Point
Wastewater Treatment Plant now under construction is a great example of
a project with multiple benefits, including economic development. Today,
this project is creating much-needed construction jobs in our
community. When finished, it will help protect Bellingham Bay and
create wastewater capacity for future business development. Proposed
investments in regional storm water treatment facilities and wetland
mitigation strategies are other examples of building capacity in ways
that create better environmental results and are more cost effective.
- Meet community goals and values: We also must be
sure our economic growth is sustainable and carefully balanced with
other community values, such as protecting and enhancing our environment
and preserving our quality of life.
- Rely on strategic partnerships: We are fortunate
to have many capable partners working together to support our healthy
economy, including the Port of Bellingham, Whatcom County, WWU and other
colleges, the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable
Connections, Whatcom Council of Governments and others from throughout
the public, private and nonprofit sector.
- Retain our businesses: While we want to attract
new businesses, it is important first to retain the businesses we have.
We are asking businesses about their experiences with the City, and our
goal is to make our regulatory path consistent, predictable and fair.
Upcoming processes and decisions
The City Council has adopted a series of Legacies and Strategic
Commitments that set an ambitious vision for the next twenty to fifty years,
one of which is to support a vibrant, sustainable economy. As our regional
economy begins to stabilize, it is essential that we take concrete steps to
meet these goals and measure our progress along the way. Actions we are
considering this year include:
New Economic Development Chapter
The City Council is considering a new chapter for the City’s
Comprehensive Plan devoted to economic development. The document proposes
key economic goals:
- Positive Business Climate: Build and maintain a
positive and competitive business friendly climate that will attract and
retain high quality businesses in Bellingham.
- Economic Diversification: Accommodate a broad mix
of jobs, while actively seeking a greater proportion of living wage jobs
that will benefit a cross-section of the residents of the city.
- Land and Infrastructure: Maintain an adequate
supply of developable employment lands to accommodate the forecasted
growth and accomplish the City’s economic development goals.
- Vibrant Commercial Centers: Accommodate and manage
growth primarily by encouraging the development of mixed-use urban
- Quality of Life: Continue to invest in the quality
of life attributes that provide the City with a competitive advantage in
terms of economic development.
The Council is expected to consider these goals and policies proposed to
achieve them at the May 13 Council meeting. The agenda for this meeting will
be available on May 9 at
The Downtown Plan is an effort underway to identify needs, revise and
simplify rules and regulations, remove barriers to investing, and establish
actions to improve vitality. We have involved businesses and residents and
many others who care about downtown. We are building action plans to address
parking, behavioral issues and crime, creating new downtown neighborhood
connections, and promoting historic preservation efforts. For more
information, visit the City website at
We have a number of economic development activities underway, but none as
extraordinary as our work with the Port of Bellingham to redevelop the
downtown waterfront. As we are implementing our downtown and Old Town
plans, our goals are to clean up this waterfront property, create public
access, and plan for growing demand for jobs and housing. The draft
City/Port plan proposes a balance: parks and light industrial areas, jobs
and recreation, accessible beaches and working waterways. It envisions a
steady rate of development over several decades, with gradual public
investment. The plan is currently under review by the Bellingham Planning
Commission. For more information visit the City website at
What is economic development?
Economic development is as big and complex as a sewer treatment plant
upgrade or a 237-acre waterfront clean up and redevelopment. Economic
development is strategic. And economic development is as simple as thanking
our existing businesses for investing in our community, and making sure they
get what they need from City government so they can continue to thrive
here. As we consider various economic development plans and actions in the
coming weeks and months, please let us know what economic development means
to you by contacting my office at 778-8100 or