Everett must overcome its income problem

  • By Tom Hoban Realty Markets
  • Thursday, July 26, 2012 9:41am

According to The U.S. Census Bureau, Washington’s median annual household income was $56,244 for the reporting period 2006 to 2010. Asked which Snohomish County cities are above or below that line, most of its residents would likely guess wrong. Among the leaders are Edmonds, Mukilteo and Mill Creek. Those are probably not surprising to anyone. But so are Arlington, Marysville, Snohomish, Monroe, and Stanwood. Maltby is the county leader at $105,000.

Cities below the state average include Darrington, Granite Falls, and, somewhat surprisingly, Everett, which is $10,000 per year under the state median and comparable to other Washington cities such as Aberdeen, Quincy and Kelso.

Household incomes support families, retail businesses, restaurants and the local tax base. But business start-ups, the arts, many not-for-profit causes and other important elements of healthy communities often rely heavily on those in upper-income categories. In that regard, Everett leans on a disproportionately small pool of its own residents while tapping others with ties to it that reside elsewhere.

Income and education are not always linked. But in Everett, they seem to be as only 20 percent of its residents have a bachelor degree — well below the national average of 31 percent and putting it on par with Paducah, Ky., and Pascagoula, Miss. This seems odd when its major employers are aerospace and medical, which attract a large number of highly educated and skilled technical workers.

One of the reasons Everett is unable to keep these upper income earners is that it has a limited number of neighborhoods to serve them. Other bedroom communities popped up to do that. Half of Mill Creek households have bachelor’s degrees as a result. The median household income in Arlington is greater than 60% of all Everett households. It appears that many of the high income earners with jobs located in Everett are choosing to reside in other communities in the county or beyond.

The absence of upper income earners and bachelor’s degrees is not by itself a problem. Over time, though, it can drag a community down and eventually pull employment out to where people of means, entrepreneurs and their staff choose to reside. The flight of upper-income families from Seattle to east King County is part of the reason for the employment growth in Bellevue over the past decade, to cite an example. There’s a reason Mill Creek can support its own Town Center while Everett’s own downtown struggles, to cite another.

Like east King County, though, Everett has a few advantages it can leverage if it wants to put some work to this issue. First among them is its schools. The Everett School District is one of the strongest in the state with teachers earning near the top of the salary scale. Its largest private high school, Archbishop Murphy High School, ranks among the strongest in the state in college placement rate, scholarship offers, and student success both inside and outside the classroom. Other underutilized assets in the area could be leveraged to attract more business and corresponding income earners. More convenient commercial air travel in and out of Paine Field might give more people a reason to locate in Everett. That could be in Everett’s future soon. The opportunities that present themselves with the waterfront development in the former Kimberly Clark Mill could attract unique light industrial, manufacturing and other businesses to the area.

But these alone are not enough. Turning household income around is not an easy task in mature communities like Everett and must include an affirmative set of actions to make it happen. Zoning protections around its quality single-family neighborhoods, a commitment to meaningful revitalization of its downtown and an appealing way for locals to access the waterfront would have to be elements of any sort of plan.

A proactive new vision is what’s missing. Developing a plan to attract and retain the more affluent will follow. Recognizing the virtue of doing so is the first step.

Tom Hoban is CEO of The Coast Group of companies in Everett. Contact him at 425-339-3638, tomhoban@coastmgt.com or www.coastsvn.com.