IPZ. CBI. S&P.
The acronyms were flying at the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce forum today as elected officials from four cities plus unincorporated parts of the county presented the annual “State of the Community” address.
Olympia mayor Cheryl Selby, who is just 13 days into her term, joined Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder, Tumwater Mayor Pro-Tem Neil McClanahan, Yelm Mayor Ron Harding, and County Commissioner Sandra Romero for a panel discussion of topics ranging from economic development to transportation, with a side of water rights, bees, trash, and craft distillery thrown in for good measure.
Selby highlighted the hiring of Renee Sunde as the city’s first Economic Development Director.
“People are so excited to have that connection that hasn’t been here before,” she said, adding that, for Olympia’s Planning and Development Department, 2015 “was like giving birth to three children all at once.” The department adopted a Comprehensive Plan for the next 20 years of growth, finalized a Shoreline Plan, and committed to a Community Renewal Area in downtown.
In Lacey, a new veteran’s center located within the new South Puget Sound Community College building will help to address a critical need, said Ryder, who called it “a game changer for city of Lacey.”
At the same campus, the new Center for Business and Innovation (CBI) brings with it the possibility of advanced manufacturing. Within last year’s transportation budget, the city received $72 million to address the Marvin Rd. interchange.
“That was one of our biggest successes,” Ryder said.
Financially, Standard & Poors (S&P) upgraded the city’s rating from AA to AA+ in 2015.
The December sale of the Tumwater Brewery was foremost on McClanahan’s mind.
“This has been an ongoing priority,” he said, describing the efforts of city staff to plan for the best use of the site in collaboration with the new owner.
Another collaborative project resulted in an Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ) designation for craft brewing and distillery in the city. And with $7.5 million in state funds allocated to rebuild the Deschutes Watershed Center, in 2016 Fish & Wildlife, the Squaxin Tribe and other community groups will work with the city to create a Chinook salmon hatchery.
In Yelm, the focus was also on water — rights and conservation, that is. After the Washington Supreme Court cancelled the city’s permit, Yelm appealed but lost. Currently, says Harding, they’ve asked for a reconsideration and are working on alternatives. Meanwhile, they’ve developed a conservation plan that extends the life of potable water.
“Yelm used the same exact amount of water in 2015 as we did in 2004 with half the population,” said Harding. “We’ve also improved our lost water system and reduces lost water down to less than 2 percent.” Yelm has also begun construction on a long-planned Community Center as well as a state-of-the art skate park.
Romero, who has announce that she won’t be running for re-election in 2016, also mentioned conservation on several fronts. The county continued to reduce its production of garbage going into waste and recovery, she says, and next year will incorporate a technology that converts food waste into fertilizer on site.
“We also partnered with Olympia, Tumwater and Nisqually Land Trust to protect nearly 1,300 acres for our native pollinators,” she said — acres that have no bee killing chemicals.
Agricultural tourism has also started to flourish as word of the Bountiful Byway gets out, she added, and the county is working with Thurston Thrives to create healthy communities.
Thurston Thrives was also part of the panel discussion that followed, along with the recent focus on economic development and regional transportation issues.