The Thurston County Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual State of the Community Address virtually this afternoon, gathering representatives and community members across the South Sound.

During the Puget Sound Energy-sponsored event, which went from about 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and for which over 200 people registered, several county officials — including Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser and the mayors of Olympia, Tumwater, Lacey, and Yelm — gave updates on their respective jurisdictions and what notable developments their communities should expect to see in the coming year. 

Before the updates began, participants chatted and networked via a virtual “floor” replete with digital tables and chairs. 

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

David Schaffert. Screenshot from the event.

David Schaffert, CEO of the Thurston Chamber, kicked off the event with a brief address summing up the major events of 2020, invoking COVID-19, racial justice, and the state of democracy. He emphasized the silver linings affixed to the topics — one being how businesses innovated in response and how communities came together to address them, for example. 

Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby was the first city official to give an update at the event. Rather than give a conventional address, she opted to share a couple of videos she felt “spoke for themselves” — one focusing on how the City of Olympia and its community reacted to the racial justice protests of 2020, the other emphasizing pandemic response in the area.

Mayor Cheryl Selby. Screenshot from the event.

“We created new, safe experiences,” Olympia’s city manager Jay Burney said in the second video.   

Tumwater’s mayor, Pete Kmet, followed Selby by summarizing how his city weathered 2020. 

“Like many of you, we spent several weeks just learning how to operate safely in a COVID environment,” he said toward the beginning of his speech.

He noted that despite the numerous challenges presented by the pandemic, Tumwater is currently financially stable, with federal CARES Act dollars helping bridge some gaps. Residential real estate construction, for example, has remained resilient, and the city’s goal of becoming a brewing epicenter didn’t waver in spite of COVID-19 obstacles. 

Mayor Pete Kmet. Screenshot from the event.

Kmet said that Tumwater residents can expect several large commercial projects to either continue or begin construction in 2021. 

“I’m optimistic that we are well-positioned for economic recovery,” he said.

Yelm Mayor J.W. Foster, like Kmet, said that his city is currently in a stable financial state, and that “people in Yelm are still doing their same things like they have to — if they are fortunate, they are still working their jobs… sometimes there are some tough choices that have to be made. …. Trying to move back to what’s normal.”

“We looked to our partners, we looked to our leaders, to provide us with inspiration,” he added. 

Commissioner Tye Menser. Screenshot from the event.

County Commissioner Tye Menser continued by offering a more comprehensive look at how the county has holistically reacted to 2020’s various challenges, specifying COVID-related economic responses, the development of a habitat-conservation plan, and a series of building development changes.

“We have much on our plate for 2021,” Menser said, using continued pandemic response, growth management, a regional climate mitigation plan, racial equity, and a regional housing committee as examples.

Collaboration, Menser said, will be key in 2021.

Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder was the last official to give an address at the event. He said that when COVID-19 hit, he was inspired by how the city adapted, citing the fact that by May 2020, just a few months after Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order was instated, 110 businesses had received grants. Funds were not only directed to businesses, but also to individuals in need, Ryder said. 

“To date, nearly $2.3 million have been directed toward Lacey’s COVID-recovery efforts,” he said, adding that he expects increased demand for housing in the coming year and further increases in government transparency and access. 

Screenshot from closing Q&A portion of the event.

After their individual updates, leaders then addressed moderated topics, which included COVID-19 response, additional infrastructure snapshots, and more. A common talking point was that 2020 renewed the importance of communication with one’s community, and that technological innovation became especially important. Selby noted that in addition to bolstering community health, looming vaccinations are the “next frontier in retail participation because we’re never going to get through this business slump and all the challenges of our business community if we can’t get everybody vaccinated.” 

After the Q&A session ended, participants were given extra time to talk with other attendees virtually. 

“I pledge to you that we will continue to work in [a collaborative] spirit through whatever 2021 has to bring our way,” Menser said. “We’ll get through this together, and we’ll come out of it stronger.”

For more details, read the State of the Community Report 2021, which was published ahead of the Tuesday event.