Jack Louws has a long resume of work in both local government and the private sector. I sat down with him after the primary election to talk about why he is running for Whatcom Count executive. He has received endorsements from Port of Bellingham Commissioner Scott Walker, Lummi Indian Business Council member Darrell Hillaire and former Whatcom County Planning Director David Stalheim.
BBJ: What do you feel are the two most pressing issues facing Whatcom County?
Louws: Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobs is number one. We can break that down into both non-agricultural and agricultural.
Then the second one that we really need to work on is the Lake Whatcom issue. It’s been with us for the last 15 or 20 years. We need to get to more project-based solutions so that we are talking about the lake in a different framework than what we are currently.
On the jobs end of it, one thing that we need to do is walk alongside of our existing businesses to make sure that they have the opportunity to thrive and survive in today’s environment. Ways that we can do that with large businesses is to be working with BP and Conoco and Intalco and make sure that we work with them on regulations, taxes, electrical rates and do what we can to protect those businesses because those are really the linchpins of our local economy. So we need to protect what we have first, both on the large business end and the small business end.
Small business seems to be lagging in the recovery more than big business is right now. We need to be cognizant of that fact. Two things I’d like to do: Much like the economic development investment (EDI) program now is helping out low-income housing, I would like to extend or rework that program so we could help small and medium businesses out through permitting processes and have the EDI fund backfill the municipalities for impact fees that they would be charging small businesses. We would be able to reduce their capital costs on projects.
Of course it takes the approval of the Whatcom County Council and EDI Board to make that happen, but I’d like to enter into that conversation very quickly after the first of the year.
Secondly, I’d like to do what we did in Lynden and take council, planning commission members and interested citizens and I’d like to put a group together to work through the county code. Not necessarily to change the intent of the code, but to tie them all back together so that we can pull the inconsistencies out of it so that we’d be able to streamline the permitting process for applicants.
I’m in the manufacturing business and I’m involved in the industry. Permitting is a challenge for businesses right now, and one way we can help right now is to make that as efficient as we reasonably can. We had a lot of success with that in Lynden and I’d like to extend that to the county and work on continuous improvements.
On the Lake Whatcom issue, I think that we need to continue to work with Bellingham and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District. Reading the Lake Whatcom Management Plan, a lot of the emphasis is on management and monitoring. I’d like us to shift more dollars into project-based solutions. I’d like to possibly use REET (real estate excise tax) funds and Conservation Futures funds and identify specific projects and use those monies to buy project-specific lands so that as we go in and rebuild roads and do road improvements that we incorporate water quality as an integral component in each one of those projects.
Ultimately, it’s taken a lot of years to get the lake to the condition it’s in and it’s going to take a lot of years to bring it out of that. I think we just need to be more proactive with it and do what we reasonably can on an ongoing basis.
BBJ: What can the county do to help ensure that the business community here remains vibrant and varied?
Louws: One of the challenges that I see is availability of manufacturing and industrial lands and options for local businesses in relation to where they locate. Along with that is doing the best that we can to keep the capital costs down for them.
If there’s specific areas where we could put the public improvements — stormwater, water, data, fiber — any areas where we could help develop some of the public infrastructure and reduce the cost for businesses to move in would be great. Ultimately, we’re trying to compartmentalize where specific businesses go to a level that I don’t think is allowing enough flexibility for business owners to make good decisions. They look at it and they go, ‘My business is growing, it’s 5-years-old, but I can’t go in and spend $250,000 an acre on property.’ We just need to leave viable options for that.
BBJ: What skills or experience do you have that makes you the better choice for county executive?
Louws: I have 29 years of private sector experience as a local business owner. Currently Louws Truss has offices in Ferndale, Burlington and Everett. I still own it and my son is running it. We have 73 employees and by virtue of being in business for the last 29 years and being successful with it, I think that I’ve shown that I do have the private sector experience to do that.
Alongside of that, I served four years on the Lynden City Council and eight years Lynden mayor. I’ve worked with budgets, I’ve worked with personnel, and I’ve worked with the community. We accomplished about $60 million of infrastructure projects in Lynden during those eight years. b
And I think I bring to the table a broad-based range of experience that’s relevant to being the county CEO. The county has 820 employees, it’s got about a $170 million budget and a lot of the executive’s work directly relates to managing that business. I feel that I’ve got great qualifications to be able to handle that.