Sultan looks to lure outdoors firms to Sky Valley

SULTAN — City officials are doing all they can to make the surrounding recreational opportunities an attraction to recreational-equipment manufacturers.

Joining Sultan to create the Port-to-Pass Recreation Development Zone are the cities of Snohomish, Monroe, Gold Bar and Skykomish; Snohomish County Parks; the Sky Valley, Monroe and Snohomish chambers of commerce; GROW Washington; Everett Community College; WorkSource Snohomish County; and Premier Polaris.

The goal is to tout the area’s potential and proximity to recreation opportunities.

The partnership grew in response to news in 2009 that the state Department of Natural Resources would close off-road-vehicle trails in the Reiter foothills east of Gold Bar, under pressure from the Sierra Club, said Ted Jackson, Sultan’s government affairs intern. The city’s analysis of the proposed closure showed a possible 40 percent loss of retail trade in Sultan if Reiter’s ORV trail access was limited, he said.

That’s when the city realized it needed to diversify its economy, he said.

Jackson, an electrician who lost his job in the housing bust, became Sultan’s point man on the effort, said Mayor Carolyn Eslick. Jackson started meeting with local interest groups and officials from other cities, Natural Resources, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Parks and Snohomish County Parks. The idea was to assess the Skykomish Valley’s assets.

Jackson’s group identified nine distinct recreation opportunities in the area, including the county’s shooting range and the new 90-acre Steelhead Park in Sultan, Wallace Falls State Park, Reiter’s mixed-use and ORV trails, the undeveloped Heybrook Trails near Index, the Mount Index climbing wall, numerous U.S. Forest Service hiking trails and Stevens Pass Ski Area.

“It was the first time that all agencies started planning concurrently,” Eslick said. “We wanted to make sure the Reiter trails would reopen in a timely matter.”

While Jackson and the ad hoc Sky Valley Recreation Group marshalled the state and county agencies, Sultan economic development coordinator Donna Murphy started drafting a request for an Innovative Partnership Zone, or IPZ, focused on ways to attract recreation equipment manufacturers. The state Department of Commerce supports and certifies IPZs as a way to cluster related manufacturing and employment sectors. Snohomish County has IPZs for aerospace and medical research, and craft distillers and wineries.

Murphy has had informal discussions with officials from Economic Alliance Snohomish County to have the business development group become the lead agency if the Department of Commerce certifies the Port-to-Pass Recreation IPZ.

With the Snohomish County recreation sector employing one in eight workers, with a payroll estimated at $190.8 million, Sultan and the Port-to-Pass partner cities are perfect places for small manufacturers to design and build recreational products, Eslick said.

The surrounding mountains, lakes, rivers and trails give those manufacturers a vast test facility that has always attracted end users — their customers.

“This is a natural place for them,” the mayor said. The Port-to-Pass partnership “just morphed in the last three years.”

Business expo on Saturday

To showcase what the Skykomish Valley offers, the Port-to-Pass partnership will hold a free business expo from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. The aim is to recruit recreation equipment manufacturers and help existing local retailers and service businesses extend their network of connections.

Guest speakers’ topics include developing recreation attractions, forming a recreation innovative partnership, successful recreation business examples and capitalizing recreation technology.

To reserve a seat, call Ted Jackson at 360-793-1022 or email ted.jackson@ci.sultan.wa.us

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