An Interview with Ron Cridlebaugh
Port of Douglas County Economic Development Manager
Ron Cridlebaugh was hired by the Port of Douglas County as the economic development manager in March of 2014. His primary role is implementing the Port’s economic development plan and providing technical assistance to new and existing businesses throughout Douglas County. Previously Ron had been the Executive Director for the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County. During this time Ron was responsible for the Ellensburg Tourism and marketing campaign and had oversight of the Ellensburg Business Development Authority, a Public Development Authority created by the City of Ellensburg, to provide local business assistance, business recruitment, operate a business incubator and a light industrial building at Bowers Field
If I owned a company, why would I want to look at Douglas County?
Being an Ag based region we have a dependable workforce with a good work ethic. Our region has excellent high schools, a community college dedicated to working with our businesses and a world class medical system in the Wenatchee Valley. We also have some of the lowest electrical rates in the nation (less than 3 cents per kilowatt) and affordable housing
What attributes do you consider unique from other areas of Washington?
We have many unique attributes, one is our geography. We have mountains, the Columbia River, high desert, and Moses Coulee. Within 20 minutes it’s possible to go from snow skiing at Mission Ridge in the morning to water skiing on the Columbia River in the afternoon. Another unique attribute is the way Wenatchee and East Wenatchee work relatively seamlessly even though they are two separate cities in two separate counties.
In terms of economic development and industry growth in a region, what are the positives of a Port?
Title 53 gives port districts very broad authority to carry out their economic development charge. Port’s have the ability to enter into inter-local agreements with other public entities, operate Foreign Trade Zones, acquire, develop and sell property and use both general obligation and revenue bonding for projects. Another benefit is the ability to purchase brownfields and use Integrated Planning and Remedial Action Grants to clean up and redevelop the site. Unlike member driven organizations, Port’s serve all the citizens in their district and are governed by elected commissioners. I feel this helps a port take a more holistic approach to economic development. Economic prosperity is more than just the business community doing well… it’s the entire citizenry prospering and contributing to the overall community.
How can economic development professionals do a better job thinking regionally and collaboratively rather than engage in turf or territorial disputes?
What are some of the things that you are doing? First, the economic development professionals in the region have to realize that they are all connected and if someone is doing well they all benefit… a success for one is a success for all. This belief then needs to be conveyed to the elected officials and community leaders. As Spock put it, “the need of the many out way the need of the one”. One of the best ways to start is to get the regional leaders together and begin working on a common project. This could be around a variety of different issues, an example is increasing high school graduation rates or addressing poverty and homelessness. The key is to begin working together and developing regional relationships. In our area we have several groups that work on community and economic development that began meeting informally to share what we were doing. The goal was to find ways to support each other’s efforts and reduce the duplication of service. As a result of these meetings our region is now in the middle of a regional economic development plan. When completed the plan will have our goals with time lines and who is the lead on accomplishing that goal. On a smaller level we have started an elected official’s advisory group where an elected official and a top staff person from each of our public entities meet monthly.
You have excellent rates for energy and an abundance of water. How are you building on these critical assets to work with existing businesses or respond to inquiries from out of state?
Power rates and water are only a part of the equation. We are working with the Elected Officials Advisory Group to address development requirements and to coordinate the infrastructure and facility upgrades that will be needed in the future.
What can the Department of Commerce do to strengthen the economic relationship with rural communities?
One of the best ways to strengthen that relationship is to get Commerce staff out in the field. This will accomplish two things; one, it will allow the staff at Commerce to development personal relationships and build trust with the staff in the rural communities; second it will give the staff at Commerce a true understanding of our rural communities and what they have to offer. It is very difficult for Commerce staff to promote an area that they are unfamiliar with. Communication is another way to strengthen relationship. This is a two way street that all of us need to work on. The more aware we are of what everyone is doing the easier it is to work together and support each other.