Darrington mayor receives national award for leadership

DARRINGTON — The mayor here is preparing for a White House visit to accept a national award for leadership after the deadly Oso mudslide.

Meanwhile, a Darrington-Arlington partnership aimed at enlivening local business development has won the towns $50,000 and a spot in the quarterfinals of a three-year competition with a $3 million grand prize.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is recognizing Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin with one of three national Phoenix Awards for “selflessness, ingenuity and tenacity in the aftermath of disaster.”

Rankin is receiving the organization’s award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official. He became an anchor for his community after the March 2014 mudslide that killed 43 people and isolated Darrington with a buried state highway and shredded communication lines, according to a Small Business Association news release.

The award is a flattering and humbling surprise, Rankin said. The many people who helped after the slide did so without thinking twice or expecting recognition, he said.

“It’s not just a reflection of myself, it’s a reflection of my community and how we all reacted in the face of a disaster,” Rankin said. “Being a small community, we rely on each other and trust each other, and in those initial days that trust we have for each other and that entrepreneurial spirit helped us make the most with the resources we had. Those resources had to be enough.”

Rankin said he saw people come together with compassion and humanity to help cope with devastation.

“It was a heartbreaking and phenomenal time,” he said. “You never want to be there. I never want to be there again.”

Two other Phoenix Awards are being given out in Washington, D.C., on May 8 to a volunteer and a small business owner for their help with recovery efforts in New York after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Rankin learned a lot about what it takes to move forward after a disaster and build a stronger community, he said. Partnerships are vital.

Arlington and Darrington have teamed up on multiple projects in hopes of boosting the economy and in turn quality of life in the Stillaguamish Valley. Leaders learned this week that one of their efforts could land the communities $3 million for creating a formal revitalization plan over the next two and a half years.

Arlington and Darrington are competing in the America’s Best Communities contest, a privately funded competition launched in September 2014 and currently in its first three-year cycle.

The contest is sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel along with a variety of local businesses that have volunteered to coach communities as they develop the plans they will be judged on for the contest, Frontier spokeswoman Emily Tantare said.

“It’s our way of being engaged in the communities we cover,” she said.

Cities, towns and counties in 27 states are eligible to compete, based on the areas served by sponsors. Independent judges reviewed 138 applications representing 347 communities in teams of two or more. They announced 50 quarterfinalists Wednesday. The field will be narrowed twice more before the top three community plans are selected in October 2017. The community with the best plan wins $3 million to put it into action. Second place gets $2 million, and third gets $1 million.

Arlington and Darrington worked with Washington State University and Economic Alliance Snohomish County on their application. To qualify as a quarterfinalist, communities needed to show strong partnerships with each other and local businesses and nonprofits. Drafting a revitalization plan is the next step, with a $50,000 quarterfinals prize to help, said Ken Baldwin, Frontier Communications’ general manager for the Everett area.

“They’ll now get to really refine what they want to do,” he said. “Personally, I just couldn’t be more proud of these people.”

Troy McClelland, president of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, helped put together Arlington and Darrington’s application. The revitalization plan for the contest is likely to focus on transportation, communication, worker education, innovative rural business options, agricultural tourism and recreation, he said.

Two other Washington cities, Wenatchee and Kennewick, also are quarterfinalists in the competition.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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