Olympia Strong identifies 7 focus areas for developing a strong economy

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, said strategic project manager Amy Buckler.

Buckler spoke at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday, December 5th to provide an update on Olympia Strong.

Olympia Strong started in July. According to Buckler, they conducted various surveys, including online and city surveys, targeted listening sessions, community groups and advisory board meetings, to develop a strategy to support economic strength and opportunities for residents, businesses and the community.

According to the timetable Buckler presented to the commission, the public engagement will continue from December this year until April 2023. Buckler said they would submit the final report to City Council in late spring.

She said the focus areas they need to do include:

  • Closing the equity gap
  • Strengthen affordable housing and home ownership
  • Lift more people out of poverty
  • promote youth
  • cultivate career paths
  • Supporting entrepreneurship and small businesses, large employers and industrial sectors
  • Promote community vitality

Close the equity gap

Buckler said they have data that black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities and people who are LGBTQ disproportionately face barriers to economic security.

“We understand and recognize that the justice gap results from systemic racism and discrimination in our society,” Buckler said.

She said they involved people from those communities in the public process to help create a plan for those groups.

As for closing the equity gap, Buckler said one step they’ve taken is the allocation of specific grant funds through the Thurston Strong program. The grants targeted zones within the county that had higher incidences of poverty or higher incidences of businesses or workers vulnerable to closures or unable to work due to COVID.

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“The funds were intended to provide access to capital for people who either reside in those districts or wish to open a business that would create entrepreneurial or employment opportunities in those districts,” Buckler said.

She added that the grant helped launch 10 new small businesses, most of which are owned by BIPOC employees.

Housing

According to the Olympic survey, affordable housing should be the economic goal of the city.

According to Buckler, about 500 people took part in the survey, and 58% of respondents said they wanted the city to work on affordable housing. She added that they’ve heard the same thing from community interviews as well.

“We hear from colleges that people are delaying school because they can’t afford housing. We’ve heard from companies that they’re having a hard time hiring or hiring employees because they can’t afford housing,” Buckler shared. Incomes are extremely stressed over rising rents and fear eviction. It only affects the people in our community.

According to Buckler, Olympia Strong examines building opportunities that come with homeownership and dwindling homeownership opportunities. You are considering developing a plan such as a down payment assistance program.

Through Habitat Projects, Buckler mentioned a plan to build about 100 affordable housing units.

Big shift in the workforce

Buckler shared that there is a significant shift in the workforce. She said more jobs will require qualifications.

She added that there is also significant demand for crafts in areas such as maintenance, construction and carpentry.

“We have produced a five-year forecast showing that over 1,500 trade jobs will be in demand. We will be speaking with our union representatives and other schools about the possibilities and what we can do to expand the training programs locally,” Buckler said.

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