An Interview with John Powers
Executive Director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance
John Powers was appointed the Executive Director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance in 2011. But he is no novice when it comes to getting things done. His career spans 30 years of senior leadership roles and advisor assignments in private enterprise, professional practice, public service, and civic organizations. A graduate of Notre Dame University’s School of Business and a 25-year member of the Washington State Bar, he has owned and operated businesses in the insurance, finance and real estate sectors. In 2000. he was elected the first full-time Mayor of Spokane and later served as CEO of enterpriseSeattle. He is a hard working practitioner who not only took a call from me at 3:00am while vacationing in Italy but is the only person I know to use a Yiddish word in an economic development interview.
Kitsap can be seen as both a rural and urban county. How do you leverage that dual characterization into a competitive advantage?
In a word – “Balance”. Kitsap offers a very balanced approach to work and life – the best of both worlds if you would. While Kitsap County (peninsula and island) boasts over 250 miles of pristine saltwater shoreline and three quarters of its land mass is covered by a mature green canopy, Kitsap’s close proximity and multiple points of access to the I-5 corridor, enable it play an integral role in the diverse Greater Seattle regional economy.
People often overlook the fact the defense industry is among the top three sectors in our region (Aerospace, ICT, Defense); and, on a per-capita basis, Kitsap (home to Naval Base Kitsap and its five distinct missions) is a leader in the region’s defense industry in terms of civilian employment, engineering capabilities, and annual expenditures – both capital projects and payroll. In addition, our economy somewhat mirrors the I-5 economy as we have growing ICT and health care clusters, and enhanced capacity in advanced manufacturing in maritime and aerospace.
To promote Kitsap’s unique balance of quality of life, vibrant economy, and connectivity to the I-5 corridor, our Alliance has launched a multimedia marketing campaign centered on a portfolio of short videos entitled “Kitsap Connected”. The centerpiece is a comprehensive 10 minute film entitled Work & Life (www.kitsapconnected.org). Our message of “connectivity” and “balance” is central to our efforts to tell and sell Kitsap’s story. We were honored to be feted for this project by the Washington State Department of Commerce last year, and are pleased to have worked with Robb Zerr, Marketing Services Manager for the Business Services Division, to help get the message out to tell and sell our local, regional, and state wide story on a collaborative basis.
Kitsap has long been known for its leadership in the defense industry; what strategies are you pursuing to leverage that strength while at the same time diversifying your economic base?
In two words – “Aerospace” and “Defense”. Three years ago our Alliance partnered with the Port of Bremerton to form a community-based initiative aimed at positioning Kitsap to participate in the region’s rapidly expanding aerospace supply chain – The Kitsap Aerospace & Defense Alliance was born (www.kitsapaerospace.com). Recognizing the strength we had in maritime manufacturing through the presence of a large pool of engineering and skilled production talent, we actively engaged the aerospace industry through the Washington Aerospace Partnership, The Department of Commerce, and PNNA. We encouraged our local manufacturing companies to consider obtaining their AS9100 certifications and expanding their customer base to include aerospace OEMs, defense and commercial products, and strategic supply chain partners. We’ve invested considerable time and money on this highly focused approach, and we are beginning to see results.
Three years ago we had one company participating in the aerospace supply chain – today we have four. That may not sound like a lot of activity – but don’t tell that to the 300 employees working for these Kitsap based companies, including the 50 employees of the aerospace composite structures company, Omohundro, that relocated to Kitsap County last summer to take advantage of our skilled workforce, our proximity to the I-5 corridor, and the balanced quality of life in Kitsap. We will never take for granted the billions of dollars the Department of Defense invests in our national defense in Kitsap every year, and we will always remain focused on supporting NBK and our defense industry and the tens of thousands of dedicated professionals they employ ( 90% of which are civilians that call Kitsap home). To ensure a balanced economic future, we will continue to strive to work with local companies and prospective new companies to fully leverage their assets – financial and human capital – to provide a diverse portfolio of products developed, engineered and manufactured in Kitsap to a wide array of local, regional, national, and global customers.
How has marketing changed in economic development since you entered the field a decade ago?
In three words – “An” “Awful” “Lot” ! When I first began my economic development practice in 2004, marketing within the ED realm was not unlike marketing during my twenty year practice of law; it could best be described as . . . subtle, selective and seldom. You might place, or orchestrate, the occasional “tombstone” announcement (“ad”) in an industry or professional publication. Of course, you had the annual debate over how large, yet discrete, an ad to reserve in the annual “Yellow Pages”. And you probably purchased a fair amount of chatzkies to give away at your next trade show while engaged in the never ending pursuit of printing the “perfect tri-fold” – only to haul most of them back from the show. Finally, if you were really savvy – you might strategically pursue some earned media to get your message out . . . a little like accepting Maury’s invitation to participate in an interview for his monthly BSD Community Update.
Today, marketing, no matter the enterprise or endeavor, is a whole new ball game. I’m not even sure you can expect three strikes before you’re out. Today, it may be two fast balls or two tweets, or maybe a misconceived blog post, and you are a goner in this fast moving social media mania marketplace. But, thank goodness, we’ve stopped cutting down entire forests to feed Ma Bell’s insatiable appetite for selling volumes of yellow paper annually. Besides, today you can just query “Siri” to find and call the number, or map the way. The trouble with these smart phones is trying to remain smarter than your phone. I am doing my best to become knowledgeable in the effective use of the half dozen social media icons that adorn KEDA’s website. And, I thank my lucky stars and digital clouds every day that my teammates Kathy Cocus and Theresa Mangrum are super savvy when it comes to social media strategic communications and marketing. Obviously, the digital world of social media and cyber space – marketing space races – is here to stay and evolving exponentially. Nevertheless, I still believe that relationship based sales, service and marketing is alive and well. Although we operate and communicate in a hyper fashion, multimedia manner today; I believe there is a lot to be said for picking up the phone (smart as it may be) and asking the client or prospective client, “how’s it going?”, and “can I help you?” At the end of the marketing-matters matrix lies your community, your businesses, your workforce, your economy. Your market is your “product.” You have to know your product like the back of your hand or the apps on your smart phone; and, you have to be passionate about developing and taking your product to market – local, regional, state, national and global.
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