Eleven Winery on Bainbridge Island | Photo by Natalya NieHaus

In July 2005, Money magazine named Bainbridge Island the second-best place to live in the U.S., and with its stunning natural landscapes and small-town feel, it’s no wonder why.

With a population of 24,522, Bainbridge Island is the second-largest city in Kitsap County. Like many of the islands in the South Sound, Bainbridge is a hotspot for commuters into cities like Seattle, Kent, and Tacoma, many of whom work for the technology industry, one of the largest employment sectors for islanders. In fact, Bainbridge Island was recognized by Google in 2013 with an eCity award as one of the strongest business communities in Washington.

Though nearly half the population commutes to work, Bainbridge still has thriving local commerce, as much of the island’s economy is driven by tourism, especially during the spring and summer months. With 4.6 million people riding the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge each year, the island is a huge day-trip destination for locals looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Matt Albee, chair of Bainbridge Island’s Chamber of Commerce and owner of Eleven Winery, said the island’s business community is special.

Albee and his wife moved back to the Pacific Northwest from California in 2001, looking to settle in an idyllic location, where they could begin building their own winery. The couple settled on Bainbridge Island, having fallen in love with its natural beauty.

Despite its sublime scenery, Albee soon discovered some unique challenges that come with starting a winery business on the island, the biggest of which is simply a lack of space for large-scale development. “We have a concentrated retail core and quite a bit of office space available, but just not very much land that’s zoned for industrial uses,” Albee said.

Part of the reason for this is because residents are very protective over maintaining the island’s secluded and rural atmosphere. “It’s certainly a core part of our community values, the preservation of island character,” Albee explained. “So naturally, we get some anti-development sentiment, or BANANAs, as we call it — build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything (else).”

Even with some of the more logistical challenges, the island still has a lot to offer small businesses. “We have strong community support for local business and locally produced products,” Albee said. “There’s just a really incredible brain trust here. There are a lot of people who have done amazing things, so if you were starting a business and wanted advice on anything, you could find it here.”

As far as the island’s future is concerned, things look bright. Already a tourism hub, with the recent remodeling of the city’s downtown center, there’s been even more growth in visitation, which is good for the food and beverages sector.

“I expect continuing growth in that area, and the island brain trust definitely reveals itself in small, innovative companies doing interesting things both in software and small-scale manufacturing,” Albee said.