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June 26, 2018

Port Angeles works to diversify a rural economy

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
KNKX radio recently traveled to Port Angeles and found a community working to diversify a rural economy. (Wikimedia Commons)

Gary Chandler, AWB vice president, government affairs, speaks to more than 60 people in Port Angeles as part of AWB's 2016 statewide listening tour. (Photo: Brian Temple/AWB)
KNKX, the Tacoma-based public radio station, recently traveled to Port Angeles as part of a year-long effort to increase local and regional news coverage.

Their journalists found a strong community and creative leaders. They also came across something that rural places figured out a long time ago: To survive in the current economy, you have to diversify.

This discovery underscores what AWB has worked to highlight for years: While Puget Sound economic growth is impressive, Washington’s rural counties lag behind and could use a boost.

Last month, the unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in Clallam County, well above King County at 3.4 percent and the national average of 3.8 percent. Rural counties also lag urban areas in terms of wages, job growth and home prices.

AWB helped fuel the discussion of the urban-rural divide last year by hosting two Rural Jobs summits. Another one is planned for November.

KNKX began its report by taking a look at the local logging industry, which used to export about 300 million board feet of timber each year from the port. Today, it’s about 80 million board feet a year, or about one quarter of what it used to be.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, one of the confirmed speakers at AWB’s Federal Affairs Summit in August, highlighted the potential of cross-laminated timber, which uses smaller boards layered in different directions to create lumber products. This can be good for the environment and create jobs.

The reporter also visited the Composite Recycling Technology Center near the airport, which makes pickleball nets, park benches and other products from carbon fiber scraps leftover from the aerospace industry.

“Is this going to be a billion-dollar industry? No. I never thought it would be,” CEO Dave Walter said. “But can we create jobs in Port Angeles, Washington, and Clallam County? Absolutely. Can we make a difference in the world? You bet.”

Wages start at $14 an hour and go above $20 an hour, and Walter is hopeful the firm can someday employ 100 people.

KNKX also chatted with Port Angeles City Councilmember Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, who telecommutes to his day job as a lawyer. He said he wants more people to visit Port Angeles as a jumping off point to explore the region, which includes the majestic Olympic National Park.

“Whether it’s new uses for timber, or making pickleball nets and park benches out of carbon fiber, one thing seems clear,” KNKX reported. “The future of the economy in Port Angeles will be based on many things, not a single, big industry.”