It’s accurate to call Grant County one of Central Washington’s economic success stories. The area, like the Yakima Valley, has a strong agricultural heritage — it proudly proclaims the “largest production of potatoes in the U.S.” — and the ag sector remains strong both in crop production and food processing.
But in recent decades, the county — whose largest city is Moses Lake — has diversified into a range of companies in manufacturing, data centers and aerospace. Impressive population growth reflects that economic diversity; more than 93,000 people now call Grant County home, a 70 percent increase since 1990 and more than double Yakima County’s population growth rate in that period.
Grant County’s story is relevant to Yakima County now that New Vision, the economic development agency for Yakima County, has looked to Moses Lake for its new leader. Jonathan Smith, the executive director of the Grant County Economic Development Council, will start at New Vision on Oct. 21.
Smith, 36, came to the Grant County organization as its director of communications and research in 2005; he was promoted to executive director in 2012 after two years of grooming by his predecessor. Among the successes he counted in his interview are recruiting and assisting eight companies that have invested $1 billion in new facilities and created 500 full-time jobs in his time there. His résumé also includes creation of a training program to help local students get available jobs, organizing a successful capital campaign and securing $25 million in infrastructure improvement funding for industrial sites.
Grant County has some advantages that aren’t available everywhere, including Yakima County. Low power rates courtesy of a public utility district and expanses of available land attracted data centers and server farms from high-tech companies like Microsoft, Yahoo and Dell.
In addition, a former Air Force base now serves as an international airport that for four decades was the site of training flights for Japan Air Lines pilots until that program ended in 2009. The airport, which sees general aviation and military flights, is the home of a large aircraft maintenance company. The Port of Moses Lake, which operates the airport, also offers a Foreign Trade Zone that delivers financial benefits to some companies. Moses Lake straddles well-traveled Interstate 90, which provides quick access to Seattle and Spokane, and is close to a BNSF rail line.
Whatever the differences, the economic development folks in Grant County recognized the area’s strengths, built on them and successfully persuaded a number of new businesses to locate there. Smith brings that experience along with knowledge of the agriculture industry and a familiarity with Central Washington and the Pacific Northwest.
Smith says he already is working on a plan for his first 100 days on the job. We look forward to seeing how his fresh set of eyes envisions Yakima County’s future growth, and to see how he builds on the economic amenities that are already here.
Source: Yakima Herald
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