Mason County covers nearly 1,000 square miles, including portions of Hood Canal, Olympic National Park, and Olympic National Forest, so it’s no surprise the county has become a recreational hot spot for many outdoor enthusiasts. But this bedroom community to Olympia and Tacoma also enjoys a diversifying economy.
After settlement, the mainstay economy of Mason County was logging. Today, timber continues to be an important player in the county, which is home to such forest-products companies as Sierra Pacific Industries, Alta Forest Products, and Manke Lumber Co. Timber continues to be a strong vertical, and changes to the state’s building codes could breathe new life into the industry, and potentially the entire county.
“With the passing of the building code change for cross-laminated timber, I think you’re going to start to see buildings and how they’re developed and how they’re designed really shift focus, and timber really coming back into the forefront of building, especially on a large commercial scale,” said Jennifer Baria, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Mason County.
In late 2018, the Washington State Building Code Council approved code changes allowing for the structural use of prefabricated engineered wood products (the best-known of which is cross-laminated timber) in buildings as tall as 18 stories. Previously, mass timber’s structural use was allowed in buildings with a maximum of six stories. The move makes Washington the first state in the nation to allow tall mass timber buildings into its building code, without pursuing an alternate method.
“There are two cross-laminated timber manufacturers in our state, and they are both on the east side of the state, closer to Spokane. So, I think you’re going to see those companies start to look for different areas to put a manufacturer, and we’d love to have them here in Mason County,” Baria added.
Meanwhile, healthcare also has become a thriving sector. Mason General Hospital & Family of Clinics in Shelton, for instance, has grown from a rural community hospital to a leading local employer and leader in healthcare in the region. The hospital is not only celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but also has kicked off a $35 million medical office building construction project.
The two-story 60,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed later this year.
“The purpose of the medical office building is to improve our ability to serve our patients by offering an integrated team-based care approach and fulfill our mission of patients first. We will consolidate provider offices and patient services now located in multiple buildings east of the hospital into a modern, accessible, and patient-focused facility adjacent to the main hospital. It also will allow us to offer new healthcare services and recruit and retain more physicians to our family of clinics,” said Eric Moll, CEO of Mason General Hospital & Family of Clinics.
As noted earlier, tourism is no doubt a revenue driver for the county. Whether you’re an enthusiast of scuba diving, hiking, shellfishing, boating, skydiving, or bird watching, this outdoor playground has something for everyone. In fact, the county’s Ridge Motorsports Park attracts roughly 140,000 visitors each year, a number that is projected to triple this next year, said Baria. In addition, Skydive Kapowsin brings in nearly 50,000 visitors annually. The hope, however, is to further attract visitors by revitalizing Shelton’s downtown area.
“We’re looking at retail development, hotel development. How can we keep (tourists) in the area?” said Baria. “The city is moving forward with a Main Street program for downtown revitalization. The hope is to really bring those tourists into our downtown area. … to pull in those visitors and pull in that retail to help downtown become what it could be. Restaurants, shops, and some places for those tourists to really hang out.”
Meanwhile, many Belfair-area residents and officials are awaiting the completion of the SR 3 Freight Corridor (previously known as the SR 3 Belfair Bypass). Slated for completion in 2025, the new stretch of highway will ideally improve travel times for regional traffic, ease congestion during peak commute hours, and help reduce the potential for collisions, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. It could also unlock new opportunities for developers.
“It really has the option to open up a lot of our developable land in the north end. The county has been a leader in making sure the infrastructure is in that area,” said Baria. “It will open up industrial land for development between Mason County and the Port of Bremerton.”
Mason County may be known as a bedroom community to Olympia and Tacoma, but this county of some 64,000 residents is far from asleep. With an endless supply of outdoor activities and a diversifying economy, Mason County is one to watch.