PORT HADLOCK, Wash. – In what may be a national first, a community-based team organized by Washington State University Jefferson County Extension has been awarded a contract to serve as the county’s economic development agency.
The Jefferson County Commissioners unanimously awarded the two-year contract to a six-member team to be headed by Katherine Baril, WSU director of economic and community development. Five other organizations were also vying for the contract.
The team, which includes current and retired business executives, brings a diverse set of skills to the task including business management, economic development, public relations and marketing.
“I was excited when WSU stepped forward,” County Administrator John Fischbach told the Port Townsend Leader newspaper. “They have put together a very competent team and we were very impressed with what they proposed.”
“Economic development has always been part of extension’s mission and we’re extremely pleased to have this opportunity,” Baril said. “WSU’s new president, Elson Floyd, has made it clear that economic development, particularly in rural areas of the state, is a top university priority.”
With the decision, WSU Jefferson County Extension will enter into a renewable $56,000 contract with the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. The team will receive an additional $26,000 annually from the county to fund its economic stimulation efforts.
Baril was quick to emphasize that the team intends to collaborate with the other organizations that competed for the contract.
“This is a big job and there’s plenty for everyone to do,” she said.
Baril said the WSU team’s first priority is to meet with key decision makers and leaders over the next two months to develop a community-based collaborative action plan and set of priorities.
“Our early goal is to link university resources to local community assets with a focus on collaboration, entrepreneurship and local investment,” she said. “We’re particularly interested in programs that will attract and keep young people in the workforce and local leadership.”
Baril said commissioners were particularly impressed with Big Quil Enterprises, a 4-H leadership program that established a youth-owned and operated shellfish business in an economically depressed area of the county. The WSU youth project recently was recognized by the Northwest Area Foundation with a $150,000 award for its innovative approach to addressing rural poverty.
WSU vice president for economic development and extension John Gardner said he was impressed with the skill and enthusiasm with which Baril and the team pursued the contract.
“What’s happening in Jefferson County is an indicator of the kinds of efforts you’ll increasingly see from WSU to stimulate and sustain local economies throughout the state,” Gardner said. “With our county-based offices WSU Extension brings the depth and breadth of the entire university’s resources to the community’s doorstep.”