Arlington’s new mayor sees signs of economic improvements

ARLINGTON — Despite a sluggish local economy, new Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert sees signs of improvements and new opportunities in 2012.

“We’ve already issued 28 new business permits (as of March 22) and they tell me that’s a definite increase over prior years,” she said. “One permit was for a painting contractor new to the area, another was for Hubbs’ Pizza &Pasta restaurant that opened in the former Eagle Crest restaurant space … I’ve been there six times already.”

She cited other positive economic developments in the city in recent weeks:

•• The $8 million purchase of the former Meridian Yachts manufacturing site at the Arlington Airport by a developer, Arlington Advanced Manufacturing Park, which plans to create an aerospace center and manufacturing site.

• An engineering firm has inquired about manufacturing space for large storage tanks.

• Visits by Economic Alliance Snohomish County leaders have created bonds between the city and the EASC to explore future developments, including the possibility of a training center to meet the needs of many businesses that need new options for employee education.

• Master-planned development of the city’s West Arlington sector, an area extending from I-5’s Island Crossing exit south to the freeway’s Smokey Point exit, is moving ahead, encompassing businesses, health-care services and residential areas.

• Increased involvement with the City of Marysville to coordinate development of its northern industrial and retail areas, where they meet with Arlington’s southern boundaries, so that both cities can work together on development.

• The opening in March of the new Cascade Skagit Health Alliance on 172nd Street NE at Smokey Point, and the completion of The Everett Clinic’s new Smokey Point health-care center on the west side of I-5 in the next few months, will elevate the image of the city as a center for medical care facilities.

“The developer of the former 33 acres of Meridian Yachts property at the airport has already plotted out 22 to 25 individual sites for businesses and has nearly half of the space leased,” Tolbert said.

The airport space around the former boat manufacturing site includes 25 aerospace businesses employing 4,500 workers, adding to the attraction for new companies, she said.

“We’re looking for more technology jobs, which also means good family-wage jobs,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of land ready for development on the south side of the airport, too, including property owned by National Foods, which has an egg farm on the site.”

Economic development, one of the key goals she promoted in her campaign for mayor last year, is a top priority for Tolbert, along with maintaining and expanding the city’s infrastructure, including roads and utilities. Paul Ellis, an assistant economic development officer with the city, also works with the mayor on attracting new businesses.

“During my first few weeks after the election … I focused on meeting city employees, listening to their ideas and getting to know their departments,” Tolbert said. “Mayor Margaret Larson already had a lot of good things in place and I want to build on that, to continue to build a team within the city that works well together.”

From residents and city staff to businesses, including the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce, “people have been really open about contacting me with their views and wanting to work together,” she said.

Tolbert said she realizes the city can’t just wait for people or businesses to contact City Hall, so she and her staff are reaching out to the community.

“That gives us a lot of good ideas and solutions from employees and citizens, as well,” she said. “We’re also finding we can share our ideas and procedures with other cities and learn about new economic development programs they’re using. That helps everyone.”

She’s been busy swapping hats between her mayor’s role and her year-round role managing Arlington’s annual Fly In aviation event. It brings 50,000 people to the Arlington Airport for a week of air show flying events, flights for the public, vendors’ food and merchandise booths and historic military equipment displays.

It’s the third-largest general aviation event of its kind in the nation, and Tolbert knows it helps to put Arlington on the map across the country and in Canada.

“Because being mayor is technically not a full-time job, I kept my involvement with the Arlington Fly-In that I’ve directed for many years because I love it, but also because it’s also a way of attracting new residents and businesses to Arlington, along with the annual show itself,” she said.

Each year, a lot of people talk to her as she dons her hard hat and red-and-yellow fluorescent vest and drives her golf cart at the Fly In. But she knows that this year many more people will likely talk with her, too, knowing the woman smiling at them from the golf cart is also Arlington’s mayor.

More like this at the Snohomish County Business Journal: snohomishcounty businessjournal.com.

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