EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers had reasons to cheer as he addressed a roomful of local power brokers on Wednesday.
The past year’s milestones included the launch of commercial air service from county-run Paine Field only two weeks earlier. Despite the jubilant outlook, Somers cautioned it was no time to grow complacent. In his annual county update speech, he outlined ambitious proposals for the year ahead: namely, a renewed focus on housing, employment and the environment.
“We are competing for jobs and quality of life,” he told the crowd at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center in downtown Everett. “We must recognize this fact and be ready for the competition.
“Snohomish County will continue to grow. We have too much to offer not to. Sometimes faster and sometimes slower. But growth is here to stay.”
The county’s population now surpasses 800,000.
The State of the County speech was sponsored by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.
Jobs: To promote jobs, the executive proposed a Workforce Development Initiative. It involves looking at best job-creation practices from around the globe to see what can be adopted locally. The county would coordinate those efforts with Workforce Snohomish.
“If we don’t continue to innovate on training and re-training workers for our new economy, we will pay a price when companies come looking for a place to invest or expand,” Somers said.
Housing: Somers announced he was convening a Snohomish County Housing Task Force to bring together elected officials and community leaders to identify the greatest needs. Solutions could come in the form of new regulations, policies or incentives.
“I will ask them to look at middle-income and affordable housing, subsidized housing, alternative housing models, and land use and redevelopment,” he said.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, who was among about 300 attendees Wednesday, said she was eager to help ensure that everyone can find a place to live.
“It’s one of the most pressing needs in our region,” Franklin said. ”We have to work hard to protect that affordability so we can provide housing at all price points.”
Environment: Somers announced a new partnership with Forterra, a Seattle-based conservation group that has worked to protect natural, agricultural and urban areas throughout Western Washington. The Snohomish County Healthy Forest Project will focus on land that the county owns, including a possible pilot program at Meadowdale Beach Park. It aims to improve water quality and overall environmental health, while also bolstering tourism. Somers has a master’s degree in forest ecology.
Challenges in the year ahead include securing state money for road projects, particularly the U.S. 2 trestle between Everett and Lake Stevens.
“We need to begin what will surely be a long process to fix this frustrating chokepoint, one I visit every day on my way to work,” he said. “We know the state has many priorities all competing for resources, but we will continue to push hard to get the trestle upgraded.”
The county has marked major achievements over the past year.
Alaska Airlines jets departed a new Paine Field terminal on March 4, realizing the first regularly scheduled passenger flights in decades from the Snohomish County Airport. After United Airlines starts Everett-based service at the end of this month, the carriers will offer a combined 24 daily departures from Everett.
Propeller Airports, a private company, leases the airport land where it built the terminal.
“No taxpayer money was spent to build the new terminal,” Somers said. “In fact, our partnership was recently given a national award for innovation.”
Efforts to fight opioid addiction and homelessness should benefit from two new facilities that opened next to the jail. A diversion center and a social services hub are intended to put people on a path to more fruitful lives.
An entirely different kind of rehabilitation — of the environmental kind — got underway on the Snohomish River estuary this summer. County contractors breached dikes at Smith Island to re-flood hundreds of acres of former agricultural land. The goal of the roughly $30 million project is to restore salmon habitat.
Somers also took the chance to recognize county employees and elected officials for their service.
He thanked the efforts of county public works crews to clear roadways during the recent snowstorms.
During the cold weather, the county opened the doors of its administration building nightly to shelter up to 75 homeless people whom the Salvation Army was no longer able to accommodate.
“Without the dedication and compassion of Snohomish County, some of those people would have almost certainly died in the cold,” Somers said.
The executive thanked several term-limited county elected leaders for their service: Auditor Carolyn Weikel, Clerk Sonya Kraski, Councilman Brian Sullivan and Treasurer Kirke Sievers all are due to leave office at the end of the year.