Following three decades of strong population growth, Kittitas County, Washington, experienced even higher levels of in-migration in the years leading up to the 2020 Census. Anecdotal evidence suggested this trend was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as those who had flexible work arrangements, or who could afford to move out of higher-cost urban markets, chose desirable locations like Kittitas County. The steady influx of people looking to purchase primary residences or vacation homes placed pressure on an already strained housing market, driving home prices out of reach for many. At the same time, the County struggled to fund the infrastructure investments needed to manage this growth and to generate quality jobs for new and existing residents. A lack of trust in public institutions, illustrated by the resounding defeat of proposals to reestablish a port district in the County in 2016 and 2018, along with strong anti-growth sentiment in the community, further hampered economic development efforts.
Kittitas County and the City of Ellensburg engaged TIP Strategies to develop a comprehensive strategic plan to guide economic development efforts in the region. With the guidance of a 27-member steering committee, the planning process included a robust analysis of economic, demographic, and workforce data, as well as extensive stakeholder input, and a series of economic development workshops for local practitioners. Five guiding principles were identified, which became the framework for the plan. The first, collaboration, focuses on uniting the upper and lower county governments around shared goals. Economic resilience seeks to provide tools and resources needed to increase job opportunities, including entrepreneurship. Strategies under the balanced growth principle are designed to address issues affecting the ability of the County and its local governments to manage growth. Developing the area’s infrastructure, including ensuring the availability of sites and building, is the focus of the community investment principle. And finally, the preservation guiding principle outlines strategies for supporting the county’s agricultural legacy and preserving the area’s unique character, while creating opportunities for future generations. Along with an implementation workshop at the plan’s adoption, TIP will conduct two additional workshops during the plan’s first 180 days and provide a 1-year scorecard to support the implementation process.