He is a 57-year old North Carolina native who lives in Pullman. But more than any Northwest muckamuck, Dr. Elson Floyd, the president of Washington State University, could refigure Everett’s future.
Floyd, working in partnership with Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, established a WSU degree program in mechanical engineering. His leadership could presage something magnificent. A WSU branch campus, a downtown WSU bookstore, a flourishing campus that serves as a jobs’ pipeline to local employers? Floyd edged open the door, but the responsibility for galvanizing support and enabling the larger vision rests with lawmakers and the citizens of Snohomish County.
Floyd’s leadership tracks a narrative arc familiar to Everett history nerds. It’s a tale with a Western boom-bust takeaway, but pessimism is an instructive virtue. Industrialist Henry Hewitt was a Wisconsin timber honcho who worked for the St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company and figured the Port Gardner peninsula had potential. He was joined by Colgate Hoyt and Charles Colby, who managed to corral John D. Rockefeller to invest. But Rockefeller bailed when his investment started to crater (Everett should yank that turncoat’s street name.)
The analogue is tenuous, but Floyd could be Everett’s latter-day Hewitt on higher ed, as it falls on those with political (and actual) capital to make the vision whole.
On Tuesday morning, Floyd spoke at the Everett Community College Foundation breakfast, underscoring higher ed’s link to the broader community.
WSU sits on the Palouse, which informs the university’s cutting-edge ag research. In Everett, the community-relevant disciplines include not only engineering but also communications and hospitality. Floyd, however, is circumspect. He never says “branch campus,” recognizing those are fighting words to some parochial legislators. He is understandably sensitive to the politics of the University Center which is transitioning remarkably well and was a vibrant higher-ed community well before WSU came along. (A hat tip to EvCC President David Beyer’s leadership.) And so, the code-word backfill: Of course Floyd means branch campus, of course he wants $10 million in the House capital budget for construction of a WSU facility on the east side of Broadway.
We don’t know if that’s true. We can, however, scrape, elbow and contribute to see it realized. Lawmakers should embrace Rep. Hans Dunshee’s push to land capital funding. And citizens should start contributing to the EvCC Foundation, designating money to scholarships for WSU/Everett students. If we want something magnificent, we’ll need to earn it.