By Lorilyn Lirio
Olympia’s Department of Economic Development has identified seven focus areas to help the city develop a strong and inclusive economy over the next 20 years, strategic project manager Amy Buckler said. said.
Buckler spoke at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday, December 5, to provide an update on Olympia Strong.
Olympia Strong started in July. According to Buckler, they have done various surveys such as online and around-the-town surveys, focused listening sessions, community groups, and advisory board meetings to form a strategy to support economic stability. and opportunities for residents, businesses, and communities.
According to the timeline shown by Buckler to the commission, public engagement will continue from December of this year to April 2023. Buckler said they will present the final report to the city council in late spring.
He said the focus areas they need to work on, include:
- Closing the equity gap
- Promoting affordable housing and home ownership
- Lifting more people out of poverty
- Championing the youth
- Developing career paths
- Supporting entrepreneurship and small businesses, large employers, and the industrial sector
- Enhancing community vitality
Close the equity gap
Buckler said they have data that black people, indigenous people, people of color (BIPOC), immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people do not face the same economic security barrier.
“We understand and recognize that the equity gap is the result of systemic racism and discrimination in our society,” Buckler said.
He said they involved people from these communities in the public process to help develop a plan for these groups.
Regarding closing the equity gap, Buckler said that one step they have taken is to allocate specific grant funds through the Thurston Strong program. The grants targeted zones within the county where there are higher cases of poverty or higher cases of businesses or workers who are vulnerable to being closed or unable to work due to COVID.
“The funds are intended to provide access to capital for people who live in the districts or intend to open a business that will create business or employment opportunities in the districts,” Buckler explained.
He added that the grant has helped launch ten new small businesses, most of which are owned by BIPOC people.
According to the Olympia survey, affordable housing should be the economic goal for the city.
Buckler said that about 500 people participated in the survey, and 58% of respondents stated that they want the city to work on affordable housing. He added that they also heard the same thing during community interviews.
“We’re hearing from colleges that people are delaying school because they can’t afford housing. We’re hearing from businesses that they’re having a hard time hiring or recruiting workers because they can’t afford housing. ,” Buckler shared. “Seniors on fixed incomes are extremely stressed about rising rents and fear of being evicted. This is only affecting people at the top and bottom of our community.”
Buckler said Olympia Strong is exploring the building opportunities that come with home ownership and the declining opportunities for home ownership. They are considering creating a plan such as a down payment assistance program.
Through Habitat projects, Buckler discussed a plan to build about 100 affordable homes.
Massive labor turnover
Buckler shared that there has been a significant shift in the workforce. He said many jobs require skill training.
He added that there is also a great demand for trades in fields such as maintenance, construction, and carpentry.
“We have made a five-year forecast, which shows that there is a need for more than 1,500 trade jobs. We will talk to our union representatives and other schools about what opportunities and what we can do to develop training programs here locally,” Buckler said.