Port seeks to expand business opportunities for the community

Big changes are coming to the Port of Friday Harbor over the next few years.

Big changes are coming to the Port of Friday Harbor over the next few years. Property near the airport has recently been released to be leased and a plot of land next to Jensen Marina prepares for new development.

“Currently, we’re working through the mock-up process,” Port of Friday Harbor Executive Director Todd Nicholson told the Journal.

The Port procured Jensen Marina in 2018 and the neighboring Shipyard Cove Marina in 2019. The properties will take nearly 10 years to have contamination cleaned up, Nicholson said.

In the meantime, the port hopes to use the vacant, contaminated field to the east of the marina for development. Eventually, the area will be home to a 15,000-square-foot marine tech center — a quarter of which will house the Islands Oil Spill Association, Nicholson explained.

“Where we currently are on that project we have to date acquired right at $1 million in zero match grants,” Nicholson said.

On Sept. 17, the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board approved a low-interest loan of $750,000 and a $250,000 grant for the port’s project. Two additional projects that also received funding from the board are in Pend Oreille County and Nisqually Indian Tribe.

“Tools like CERB help Washington businesses succeed, by supporting jobs and increasing our state’s competitiveness. CERB’s dedication to helping communities and building sustainable economies statewide is even more vital, as we look forward to our economic recovery,” CERB Chair Randy Hayden said in a press release.

This project is expected to create 42 jobs and generate $2 million in private investment.

“CERB is an essential partner with local public and private investors in strengthening Washington’s rural communities,” Washington State Commerce Director Lisa Brown said in a press release. “Infrastructure development, especially the expansion of broadband, is critical for an equitable statewide economic recovery that provides access to opportunities for all.”

With a tenant already secured — IOSA — the building will be self-sustaining, Nicholson said. The port intends to hold a series of public meetings to discuss future plans before groundbreaking begins, but he said the port’s intent is to have land-use permitting done this fall or winter and begin submitting for building permits in spring. The goal is to have the building in operation by the end of 2022, he said.

“Friday Harbor has been wildly successful in the tourism sector,” Nicholson said. “One of the drawbacks in being heavily weighted in the tourism sector is [that] it tends to have pretty cycling employment numbers for the sector that works in that space. Additionally, the wages are somewhat depressed in that space.”

Nicholson explained that while maintaining the tourism industry in the islands is important, there are new efforts focused on balancing the economy in other ways, such as creating an infrastructure that is geared toward industrial activities and business expansion. He said in these career fields, wages are higher and employment is less cyclical

“The idea is to create broad infrastructure … that allows growth in those less volatile sectors,” Nicholson said.

While the employment pool for such careers is quite limited in the islands, currently, Nicholson said he hopes a number of businesses relocate to the islands and that the infrastructure attracts new start-up opportunities.

“That’s why it was important to come up with a financial strategy that allowed the building to be self-sustaining with minimal occupancy,” Nicholson said.

There are other tenants considering occupying the space, Nicholson said, but since none of those deals are set in stone, he did not want to name them. Especially since there is still about a year and a half left before any business can move in.

“We’ll be working with a couple of other entities on partnerships, designs,” Nicholson said.

Another project the port is currently working on is leasing 60 industrial acres located on the backside of the airport property. Nicholson said the Federal Aviation Administration approved of the port allowing that land, which has been unavailable to businesses for decades, for non-aviation use.

“We hope to attract some new businesses as well,” Nicholson said.

There are six different zones in the available area, and each has its own allowable and conditional use rules, Nicholson said. He added that interested parties should reach out to Port of Friday Harbor Property Manager Randy Everett for a tour and to discuss the business’ needs.

“There’s a ton of other stuff that we’re working on. These are the two big changes,” Nicholson said. “These are opportunities for economic development that did not exist a year ago. At the tail end of a pandemic, there are opportunities.”