Kitsap County is known for its deep U.S. Navy roots, scenic views, and laid-back communities, but its ever-evolving business environment is transforming this picturesque peninsula into a hotbed of growth opportunities.
“We’re proud of (Kitsap) in terms of our involvement and commitment with the Navy and the Navy’s commitment to us, and we want to maintain and build that with all of the Naval affiliates, of course, but we’re diversifying in a big way,” said Kitsap County Commissioner Ed Wolfe.
The Navy no doubt will continue to maintain a significant presence in Kitsap County, and Kitsap is proud of its heritage in military installations and defense industry operations.
Naval Base Kitsap has five distinct missions, including the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, the Navy’s largest shipyard on the West Coast and the second-largest industrial complex in the Pacific Northwest. (Boeing’s Everett Plant is first.) Between active-duty and civilian workers, Naval Base Kitsap employs 35,000 people, in addition to defense contractors, said Kathy Cocus, business development director for the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance.
However, Kitsap’s defense industry, coupled with its close proximity to the Seattle metro area and affordable cost of living, has helped give rise to another significant industry — technology. In fact, more than 60 tech firms have established locations in Kitsap County, employing more than 2,000 people, according to the Economic Development Alliance.
Take, for instance, Bremerton’s CI Security, which specializes in cybersecurity, and Poulsbo’s Paladin Data Systems (now Dude Solutions), which offers a portfolio of cloud-based products and services. According to Paladin Data Systems, partnering with North Carolina-based Dude Solutions will allow the company to scale its flagship SMARTGov technology and create new jobs for Kitsap County.
In addition, Microsoft recently opened a Silverdale office centered on artificial intelligence research.
“(The Microsoft office) came about because they really wanted some of the talent that was here, but the talent said, ‘We really don’t want to have to commute every day,’” Cocus said.
Meanwhile, the Western Washington University campus at Poulsbo has made headlines as home to the first public cyber range in Washington state. The cyber range, which is one of only nine educational ranges in the nation, is used for cybersecurity training and cyber technology development.
Added Cocus, “The story there is that the talent is here for other companies to utilize. … So, calling all tech companies who need an expansion site …”
Within Kitsap, healthcare also continues to grow, with facility expansions, new services, and new-to-the-area specialty practices. One of the more significant developments is the Harrison Medical Center’s Silverdale campus expansion, slated to open in early 2020. The facility will feature a 60,000-square-foot cancer center and will offer such services as robotic surgery, heart and stroke care, and a birthing center.
Additional developments throughout Kitsap include a proposed waterfront community in Port Orchard to help spur revitalization of its downtown area; a bike park, known as a pump track, developed in Poulsbo by Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance’s West Sound chapter; and a new Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Silverdale.
With nearly 300 miles of saltwater shoreline, towering forests, and mountain views, it comes as little surprise that tourism is another key industry for Kitsap County, which offers a host of recreational and hospitality opportunities and is affectionately known as “the natural side of Puget Sound.”
In fact, in 2014, the Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails was officially designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as part of the National Water Trails System. Today, it is a major destination for all types of water-related activities, ranging from boating to kayaking to scuba diving.
While Kitsap County’s business sector is increasingly thriving, maintaining its small-town vibe and quality of life will remain critical, officials said.
“The quality of life here is what I believe we have to maintain. All of this development and all of this building that we’re doing, we’ve got to balance the development with the quality of life and the environment,” said Wolfe. “I think we are an attractive option to Seattle metro … and, yes, we need to be more efficient, but we’ve got to make sure we balance this economic development with the environment here, and I think we do a very good job of that.”