Jim Walsh – The secret to growth on the harbor

The Daily World –

The City of Aberdeen has begun changing the lanes on several major streets in its downtown area. This process has caused some controversy. The streets are being repainted so that they have fewer lanes for moving cars and more room for parking and riding bikes. Some local merchants like the changes because they believe they’ll make stopping and shopping easier. Other citizens argue that the changes will make traffic congestion worse.

Decades ago, when two-way streets through Aberdeen and Hoquiam were changed into a couplet of one-way arteries that’s part of US Highway 101, Aberdeen’s downtown became something that drivers pass through quickly on their way to other places. In urban-planning terms, the city gave up its “local focus.”

The recent lane changes might help restore some local focus. They also might make peak-hour traffic worse. Both results are merely symptoms of a bigger issue: population change.

If we’re going to rebuild the economy of Grays Harbor County and coastal Washington, we need to think about our population — where it’s headed, generally, and how it’s distributed within our region.

Here are some quick historical markers on the population of Grays Harbor County and its population as a percentage of Washington state’s total:

• In 1900, the county had 15,124 people, which was 2.9 percent of the state’s 518,103.

• In 1930, the county had 59,982 people, 3.8 percent of the state’s 1.6 million.

• In 1950, the county had 53,644 people, 2.3 percent of the state’s 2.4 million

• In 1980, the county had 66,314 people, 1.6 percent of the state’s 4.1 million.

• In 2010, the county had 72,797 people, 1.1 percent of the state’s 6.7 million.

• In 2014, the county had 70,818 people, 1.0 percent of the state’s 7.1 million.

The county’s two biggest cities — Aberdeen and Hoquiam — both peaked in population in 1930 (at about 22,000 and 13,000 residents, respectively). Today, they’re just over 16,000 and 8,000 — and shrinking. While they’ve shrunk, other parts of the county have grown. For the past 25 years, Elma has been treading water at around 3,000 people; McCleary has been treading, too, at a little more than half Elma’s size. But those numbers don’t do justice to the growth in the non-incorporated parts of eastern GH County — which have grown steadily, serving as far suburbs of Olympia.

During the same period, Westport has been holding steady at just over 2,000 permanent residents (Grayland adds about another 1,000), but Ocean Shores has been growing — from about 2,300 permanent residents in 1990 to over 5,600 now.

As a part of the state’s population, Grays Harbor County peaked right before World War II. Recently, we’ve been staying fairly steady at just over 70,000 people — but shrinking, as part of the state.

Over the last 100 years, the county has averaged 2.2 percent of the state’s population, but if you look at just the post-WWII period, it’s averaged 1.6 percent. And, today, it’s right around 1.0 percent. If Grays Harbor County were to keep pace with those 100- or 60-year averages, its population would range between 112,000 and 156,000 people.

We can split the difference — and round down a little — and make a target population of 125,000 people for Grays Harbor County. This would bring our region closer into line with its historical size, relative to the state.

Could this area support another 50,000-plus people? And, if so, how?

The recent population trend has been people moving out of the core cities and different people moving into other parts of the county. To grow, we need to stop the exodus and encourage the in-flux — retirees to the coast and commuters into East County.

Retirees come to our coastal area for its beauty and low cost of living. Most live on fixed incomes so raising costs like property tax rates, utilities, etc., discourage them. We need to avoid those increases. To encourage East County’s continued growth as a suburb of Olympia, we need to make it easier and more attractive for developers to build houses.

By aggressively promoting these two areas of growth, we might be able to add another 10,000 — maybe 15,000 or even 20,000 — residents to the area. But that’s not enough to bring us back in line with our historical averages. What will attract the other 35,000 new residents?

Private-sector jobs.

Recently, the State of Washington’s Employment Security Department noted about the Harbor: “Adding nonfarm jobs in the county has been inconsistent … the last three years have seen nonfarm jobs vary in a 22,830 to 21,200 range.”

The Harbor’s current population of about 70,000 is supported by about 22,000 nonfarm jobs. So, using that ratio, we need about 10,000 new jobs to support 35,000 more residents. Now, “10,000 new jobs” might sound like a lot — but it’s not. It’s one big amazon warehouse. One Telsa battery plant. A couple of smaller manufacturing facilities. Twenty-five or 30 promising start-ups.

If those jobs are based in or near the Port, people wouldn’t just be driving through the county’s main urban corridor on the way to somewhere else. They would be stopping in Aberdeen or Hoquiam. And we’d need to redo the streets again. Entirely.

Jim Walsh lives in Aberdeen, in an old house that he and his wife are gradually fixing up, and owns a technical-book publishingcompany. He’s also Vice Chairman of the Washington State Republican Party.

– See more at: http://thedailyworld.com/opinion/columnist/jim-walsh-secret-growth-harbor#sthash.rBVNRrOq.dpuf

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