Business leaders urge LM changes

The move would diversify the range of companies in light

industrial areas.

Business leaders and educators this week applauded a proposal to diversify light manufacturing zones, allowing more knowledge-based businesses and schools to move in.

“This will loosen the rules and attract tech companies, software developers, researchers and other uses that are perfect for the island,” said Kevin Dwyer, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, at a Tuesday hearing before the City Council.

The city Department of Planning and Community Development has proposed amending portions of the Comprehensive Plan to expand use of the light manufacturing district on Day and Sportsman Club roads to include “other uses that add to the diversity of the economic activity of the island and that do not involve storefront retail.”

Planners propose to delete wording that now restricts those district’s uses to manufacturing, processing and storage.

“This gives more flexibility for the area and helps the island respond to changing markets,” planner Libby Hudson said.

The changes will help the island keep up with modern demands for high-tech facilities as manufacturing businesses move elsewhere in search of cheap labor.

“Light manufacturing and the world is changing,” said Day Road Business Association representative Shari Watson. “These jobs are being shipped offshore.”

Some high-paying, knowledge-based businesses have had a hard time expanding or relocating to the island because of zoning restrictions, Watson said.

“We’ve lost so many businesses to Poulsbo and Seattle because of lack of space,” she said.

Dwyer said new technology businesses are a natural fit for the island’s population and should be encouraged to stay.

“These types of companies are light on the environment, pay very well, are knowledge-based and allow employees to afford houses on Bainbridge Island,” he said.

The shift from manufacturing to technology would allow residents to live and make their living on Bainbridge, avoiding commutes and the off-island flow of money.

“We would have a self-sustaining economy and not be so dependent on Kitsap County and Seattle,” he said.

Dwyer said he expects the low rents in manufacturing zones will encourage art and dance studios to spring up while local private schools will be able to expand.

Ed Gillanders, part-owner of the Island Children’s Montessori School, said he hopes to establish a new, expanded facility in the Day Road area after sharing space with Port Madison Lutheran Church for over 20 years.

“Changes to light manufacturing are crucial to us,” he said. “We can’t go to Winslow. We can’t afford it.”

Dwyer predicts an expanded range of businesses will offset the city’s dependence on property taxes as well.

“We don’t have big box retailers, so there’s not generally enough business tax base,” he said. “This dependence creates a lot of pressures and demands, and we could run out of a revenue stream.”

Watson agreed that diversifying the business base will benefit the island’s economy.

“It’s good to have large anchor businesses that keep the economy stable,” she said, adding that a diversified base will help remedy the high failure rate of small start-up businesses.

The council will discuss the Comprehensive Plan update at a Monday workshop, from 3 p.m. at City Hall. The council expects to adopt the updated plan by year end.

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