When thinking about what we as a community need to focus on in the coming year, the phrase economic health rises to the top.

Traditionally, economic health was thought in terms of economic growth. But economic growth often implies attacking new businesses or large-scale employers — something that has been and will continue to be a challenge in Kittitas County.

But in the modern workplace and economy, Kittitas County has a better chance of enhancing the economic health of residents than it did of attracting a Jansport production facility or a regional intermodal transit center — attempts from the past that did not come to fruition.

Absent Amazon dropping an office in the city of Kittitas, what Kittitas County needs is for residents to earn decent wages — wages that allow people to live and raise families in the community.

Those wages do not necessarily have to be paid by Kittitas County-based employers. In fact, one of the county’s growth areas is wages earned by workers employed by companies outside of Kittitas County.

Back in the day, that meant commuting. A person can live in the Upper County, work near Issaquah and have a shorter commute (in terms of travel time) than a person who lives and works in Seattle. But there are drawbacks to commuter-based communities — your residents spend most of their time outside of the community. That can cut into the amount of time people have to volunteer or just be involved in school and community activities.

Thanks to contemporary communication technology, the modern office and workplace increasingly features a dispersed work force — people who work out of their homes. If work is being done on a computer, for the most part, it can be done anywhere.

To a large degree, Kittitas County is going to grow this work force organically. The fact is it is more affordable to raise a family in Kittitas County than in King County. If a person (or couple) can earn King County wages while living and working in Kittitas County that automatically decreases the portion of income consumed by basic living essentials.

But there are ways to make Kittitas County an even more attractive destination. The Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce has opened coworking locations in Ellensburg and Cle Elum — basically office space for people who just need a place to work and wifi.

This is a nice option for people who want something separate from their home for work space. In the future, it is easy to see facilities like this expanding if the need arises.

Also, the vote this past fall to construct a new elementary school and renovate Lincoln and Mount Stuart will make the Ellensburg area a more attractive destination for people looking to raise families.

The presence of Central Washington University and all the events and programs associated with the campus make Ellensburg a small town with more to offer than most sleepy bedroom communities.

So, while we lack large swaths of industrial land and the cheap power rates of our neighbors to the east, Kittitas County has the type of life-style amenities that will entice mobile work force of today and tomorrow.

It may not be your father’s economic development, but it may be what works in the years to come.


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