Chelan-Douglas Trends e-Newsletter

5-QUESTIONS WITH: JIM HUFFMAN - PORT OF DOUGLAS COUNTY COMMISSIONER, DISTRICT 1

Jim Huffman Photo

Q: As a commissioner of the Port of Douglas, one of your main duties is to set strategic goals of the Port for 2018 and beyond. Can you briefly tell us what they are?
A
: It is easy for public agencies to fall into a trap of becoming too self-serving. To avoid the prospect of doing so, the Port of Douglas puts the success of our constituents and clients at the forefront of our planning efforts and strategies. Port Districts in the State of Washington are enablers of private sector economic development using a broad array of recruiting, financing and planning tools.

In 2018 we are continuing to pursue advancements in the technology sector which benefit from strengths we have with low-cost, reliable power supplies and a very fast fiber optic internet backbone with significant bandwidth capabilities. The demand for data storage and processing power continues to grow at a very fast pace and forms the core for long-term stable employment in Central Washington communities.

We continue to advance the development of Wenatchi Landing at the east end of Odabashin Bridge where there are a multitude of private and public agency property owners, but none owned by the Port of Douglas. We have and continue to serve as the catalyst and coordinator of both private and public development and will continue as the champion for appropriate grants and loans for public infrastructure. The coordinated planning has led to significant capital cost reductions for public projects needed to serve the area.

The Port has initiated efforts to assist the town of Rock Island in cleaning up and utilizing a smelter site that has not been used for several years. The community is now engaged in planning efforts initiated by the Port to determine what future uses of the site best serve their needs. The plan will ultimately determine the scope and magnitude of efforts required to rehabilitate the smelter site.

Q: How will you measure success of the Port's efforts to achieve these goals?
A
: We have already experienced significant increases in assessed values, tax contributions and employment in the technology sector in Douglas County. One data center has already demonstrated its role in providing these benefits in providing stability to the county tax base through the recent recession. We will continue to monitor these contributions associated with both existing and new businesses and look for other prospects to broaden the tax base and employment opportunities.

The work at Wenatchi Landing and the town of Rock Island will also be judged by similar criteria as well as the satisfaction of our constituents that we are meeting our goals and their needs.

Q: Will Chelan-Douglas Trends help the Port with this assessment? Are there other uses that Port has found with the Trends?
A
: The Trends data is spot on in monitoring how our efforts serve to help the local economy and our quality of life. The breadth of data is key to measuring the factors mentioned above.

A trend that our Port has observed for some time typical of rural counties in Washington is lack of employment in the manufacturing sector. While we have a strong agricultural base, advancements in bringing employment in this sector would add to the diversity and stability of our economy. Since we lack freeway access, heavy manufacturing and industry is not a likely candidate for recruitment. The technology sectors discussed above that take advantage of our strengths may fill the identified economic needs.

The Trends have played an important role in both identifying our needs but also where we can focus to help fulfill those needs.

Q: You are a native of the area and spent years in an executive role at the Chelan County PUD. Much has undoubtedly changed since you started your career. What long-term changes in life in the two-county area do you find reflected in the Trends?
A
: Certainly, there have been significant shifts in the demographics. We are a more diverse community in both ethnicity and age than in the past.

We have a large and growing number of older residents. Without other data provided by the Trends, a demographer might conclude that the disproportion of the elderly means we are a stagnating or shrinking population. Not true. We have a robust health care system and a desirable place for retirees.

Our educational system has made significant progress in the investments in young people and the quality of education delivered. Our local school districts recognize and promote the importance of STEM curriculum.

We are now beginning to see more employment opportunities for young adults who prefer to stay here for the longer term.

Outdoor recreation has become a more significant attraction to Central Washington. I believe this trend has accelerated by having a more mobile population. Adding to this trend has been the development of a viticulture industry and Ag-tourism.

Q: You have worked in a public setting for decades, both at the PUD and the Port. Over time, have you noticed an increased use of data among your fellow residents in making decisions?
A
: My early exposure to data utilization and processing was first a slide rule, then a mechanical calculator, then a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet. Then we had the hand-held calculator thanks to the space program. Most of these "data crunchers" have now been replaced by the smartphone. Advancements have been both dramatic and exciting to witness. Now we can take advantage of data being processed by others through more advanced techniques and utilization of the internet.

Quality data is certainly key to making better and more informed decisions. Our ability to gather, analyze and utilize data in the decision-making process is improving with each generation. Unfortunately, there has been a flood of misleading and erroneous information easily disseminated across the internet. The need for critical thinking and appropriate vetting has never been more important. I am pleased that we have Chelan-Douglas Trends to provide quality data that is both reliable and verifiable.

I prefer data in a more visual format (graphs and graphics), which Trends provides in addition to the raw spreadsheet data. Of course, judgement in using the data is still paramount. I am hopeful that there is a role for some of us "old guy" young thinkers in providing that judgement.