ARLINGTON — For Mayor Barbara Tolbert, the biggest benefit of a strong local economy is the extra hour or two it saves — enough time to attend a kid’s softball or soccer game.
“If there are enough family wage jobs here, then people don’t have to commute to Everett or Seattle,” said Tolbert, the mayor of Arlington.
“If you’re not sitting in traffic, there’s more time to take in a game or have dinner at home,” she said. And residents who want to stay in town and buy a home or raise a family have the option.
Tolbert, who was elected mayor in 2012, had to make some “tough decisions” in those first few years, she said.
To get the city back on sound fiscal footing, she had to cut staff and services and merge some city departments.
Downtown Arlington, for example, is flourishing — its main street is “a healthy mix of legacy and millennial businesses,” Tolbert said.
Last year, the city issued more than 80 new business licenses.
Tolbert is this year’s recipient of the Henry M. Jackson Award, which is given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County to someone who shows “exemplary service to the community and is committed to the business interests of the region,” according to the organization.
The award, established in 1977, is named for the former U.S. senator from Everett. It will be presented at the alliance’s eighth annual meeting and awards celebration May 23 at the Tulalip Resort Casino.
Nominator Diane Kamionka, who established TheLab@everett business incubator and is developing an Arlington satellite, described Tolbert as “relentless in promoting the economic and community good of not only Arlington, but Snohomish County.”
Tolbert’s leadership resulted in national recognition for Arlington as an entrant in the America’s Best Communities competition. The private $10 million campaign supports small town revitalization projects.
Arlington was named one of the competition’s eight finalists in 2016 and received $100,000 to further its economic development. “The city put that toward town projects to clean up main street and build some pop-up parks,” Kamionka said.
Tolbert also has been recognized for her leadership in the Stillaguamish Valley revitalization project, conceived after the 2014 Oso mudslide that killed 43 people. The Stilly Valley project was intended to hasten the area’s economic recovery after the tragic slide.
“Partnering with neighboring Marysville, she has led the effort to win approval of the Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing Industrial Center,” Kamionka wrote.
Tolbert worked closely with Marysville officials to gain recognition for the manufacturing center, a 4,000-acre swath of land spanning the two cities.
In June, it’s expected that the Puget Sound Regional Council will recognize the development as a regional manufacturing center, Tolbert said.
With recognition comes greater visibility and being eligible to compete for federal highway funds, Tolbert said.
It’s hoped the center will generate more than 20,000 additional manufacturing and industrial jobs over the next 20 years.
Currently, there are 8,000 jobs and more than nearly 300 businesses, Tolbert said.
“It’s been growing,” she said.
The manufacturing center includes Arlington Municipal Airport, an important economic driver and site of one of the largest general aviation events in the nation, the Arlington Fly-In.
Tolbert became executive director of the Fly-In, a largely volunteer nonprofit group, in 1994.
“I applied for the sole purpose of getting my pilot’s license,” Tolbert said with a laugh. She eventually soloed in a Cessna 172, but civic duties don’t leave her much time to fly.
Tolbert helped turn the Fly-In into the third largest general-aviation event in the nation, drawing more than 30,000 visitors and nearly 1,000 airplanes last year.
She still serves the event in a volunteer capacity.
Tolbert’s experience in the nonprofit sector has served as her guide to good government.
Nonprofits, said Tolbert, have to live within their means and justify their use of money.
“Not bad principals to live by,” she said.
Her community involvement hasn’t been limited to the Arlington area.
After the Oso mudslide, Tolbert joined local civic leaders, business owners and neighbors in creating a 152-page plan to strengthen the economy of the Stillaguamish Valley, focusing on Arlington, Darrington and the communities in between, including Oso.
The plan drew its strength from its many voices, including Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin, she said.
“It’s amazing how elected officials and agencies are willing to partner in Snohomish County,” Tolbert said. “We’re all stronger together.”