County officials remain bullish on job growth

LYNNWOOD — With a relatively high unemployment rate, plenty of empty office space and uncertainty over the future of Snohomish County’s largest employer, local economic officials could be forgiven for feeling glum.

Instead, they’re planning millions in public and private development in nearly all the cities across the county’s southern half. Many of the projects are designed to keep local residents working and shopping closer to home.

More than 100,000 residents drive out of the county, mainly to King County, each day for their jobs. That compares to fewer than 35,000 people coming here from other counties to work.

"That in itself is our challenge," said Deborah Knutson, president of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council. "We have to decide whether we want jobs for those 100,000 people right here … or whether we just make their commute smoother."

The city of Bothell is among the cities trying to encourage local job growth. As home to the state’s largest cluster of biotechnology companies outside of Seattle, the city already has a head start, said Bill Wiselogle, the city’s community development director.

"Thank goodness for biotech," he told the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. "To be sure, we have lost some businesses and have had some downsize significantly, but we weren’t hit as hard as some employment centers."

In an attempt to retain and expand the tech-oriented businesses in the city, Bothell has raised height limits on office buildings to 100 feet, or up to 150 feet for some manufacturing structures.

At the same time, in order to encourage a larger stream of sales taxes into the city, Bothell is actively pursuing big-box retailers, said Manny Ocampo, assistant city manager. It also has revised zoning rules to allow car dealerships to move into the Thrasher’s Corner, Canyon Park, North Creek and downtown areas of the city.

Bothell is not alone in hoping to attract more retailers. Large amounts of retail space are either being built or are planned for the downtown areas of Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace.

Mill Creek expects 70 percent of the retail spaces in its Town Center project to be occupied by fall 2004, city manager Bob Stowe said. Meanwhile, several new buildings mixing commercial space on the ground floor with condominiums or office space above have been built in downtown Edmonds this year, said Duane Bowman, development services director for that city.

In Lynnwood, a planned redevelopment of the city center will add an estimated 1.5 million square feet of retail space. That’s in addition to the ongoing $100 million expansion and renovation of Alderwood Mall.

Shane Hope, planning and development director for Mountlake Terrace, said more mixed-use and retail developments are planned for that city as well.

"Since 1990, the biggest growth in Mountlake Terrace hasn’t been in population, but in jobs," she noted.

Add to that a long list of other public and private projects under discussion by Mukilteo, the Port of Edmonds and Paine Field.

In outlining their plans, the municipal officials told the chamber of commerce audience that they are bullish on the county’s potential as the population keeps growing. Jean Hales, president of the South Snohomish County chamber, agreed the level of development activity is encouraging.

"There’s millions of dollars in investment being made, and that equates to more job opportunities and an enhanced quality of life," Hales said.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or

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