Lands report outlines economic development tools

By Isaac Bonnell

The City of Bellingham is now one step closer to outlining a comprehensive plan for promoting economic development within the city.

The second phase of a research study called the Employment Lands Report was presented to City Council in January, outlining several target industries and recommending regulatory tools to encourage growth in those industries.

The first phase, completed in 2008, provided an overview of Bellingham’s business sectors, available land and future employment capacity.

“These reports provide a solid baseline of understanding to help jumpstart our new Office of Business Relations and Economic Development,” Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike said in a statement. “We intend to work with the business community to evaluate these recommendations and create an Economic Development Action Plan that will identify specific actions the City can take to encourage job growth and job retention as well as foster a positive attitude towards businesses.”

Prepared by the Seattle consulting firm Property Counselors, the report focuses on target industries that have good growth potential, high wages and salaries, and currently exist in high concentrations in Bellingham.

Those sectors include: marine trades, adventure-related recreation, software and telecommunications, equipment manufacturing, professional, scientific and technical services, food processing, health care, and education and training.

Ten local businesses representing three of the target sectors were identified for case studies involving in-depth interviews. Based on the feedback from those interviews, as well as analysis of other existing reports and data, 10 specific recommendations for potential regulatory tools were developed for the City to consider:

  1. Assign point person for economic development. Staff from the Planning and Community Development Department have already taken over this responsibility and are setting up the new Office of Business Relations and Economic Development.
  2. Establish appropriate land use regulations. Clearly written zoning laws will provide predictability in the permit process. Parking ratios are also a big concern.
  3. Communicate a business-friendly attitude. Basically, the city should focus on attracting the kinds of business it wants rather than prohibiting the ones it doesn’t want.
  4. Review Business and Occupation Tax for selected sectors. One way to attract target industries is to offer a break on B&O taxes.
  5. Review impact fees in selected areas. The city could encourage business growth in certain areas of the city by reducing impact fees downtown or in commercial areas.
  6. Work jointly with the Port to attract improved air service. Direct service to major hub cities other than Seattle would allow for easier business travel.
  7. Work jointly to expand bus service, especially in urban villages and other areas designated for employment growth.
  8. Consider a public parking structure. Parking downtown is always a concern for businesses.
  9. Direct companies to sources of financing for business expansion.
  10. Encourage and support incubator development. This will help nurture startup companies in targeted industries.

For more information about the Employment Lands Report, visit the City’s Web site and search for “economic development.”

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