Nestled in the heart of Puget Sound, Olympia is truly defined by its water. But the Port of Olympia is much more than a place to dock ships. For the past 100 years, they’ve facilitated the growth of business, tourism, civic development, and even host some of the best events in town. And through the remainder of 2018, they’re welcoming community input on the future of the Port through a Vision 2050 initiative.
Of the 75 Ports in Washington State, only 16 are actually located on the water. Though we often think of them as simply marine terminals, they’re so much more. Reports show that locally, “Port operations help to support some $300 million in annual business revenues and economic activity generating 5,000 family-wage jobs and $100 million in wages.”
On the water, the Port operates an international shipping terminal specializing in breakbulk cargoes, and a 733-slip recreational marina known as Swantown. The Port also funds the Harbor Patrol. Above the waterline, the Port of Olympia owns and operates such key assets as Swantown Marina and Boatworks, Olympia Regional Airport, and provides land for the Olympia Farmers Market. According to Jennie Foglia-Jones, the Port’s communications, marketing, and outreach manager, they also own property and buildings that serve as host the Lacey Business Incubator, BoomShaka, and the Airport Golf and Batting Center in Tumwater.
Port monies come from business revenues and local property taxes, which average approximately $55 per year for the owner of a median-priced home. “But there’s this misconception,” says Foglia-Jones. “That we’re supposed to make money. Our mission is economic development and job creation. We help generate revenue county-wide, for private and public entities alike.”
This is done through reinvesting in smaller, neighboring cities, and focusing on three focus areas determined in earlier strategic planning. These are environmental stewardship, building economic opportunities, and maintaining valued community assets like nature trails and Port Plaza.
But as with any organization, it’s crucial to periodically re-assess, organize, and plan for the future. This is where Vision 2050 comes in. For guidance, the Port team brought on Jason Robertson, President of J Robertson and Company, an Olympia- and Portland-based strategic planning and public communications firm.
“Visioning projects provide a unique public engagement opportunity,” explains Robertson. “We can connect with a wide range of people, and really give them an opportunity to shape future priorities for this important community institution.” He and Foglia-Jones recognize that even though the Port’s mission is to serve all residents, not everyone knows or uses the full extent of their services.
With this in mind, they’ve started to reach out community-wide via online surveys, community group presentations, and by attending festivals and events to poll locals of every age, income level, background, and aspiration. “We have a very engaged community,” says Robertson, but to get a complete cross-section “you really have to make the effort to go out and find people where they are.”
Throughout 2018, look for pollsters in their trademark blue shirts asking five simple, open-ended questions. This early phase, officially referred to as engagement and ideation, serves to discover what people want from the Port and its future priorities.
The questions are simple. They start by asking, “When you think of the Port today, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?” Then come questions about future revenue growth and spending or possible barriers to success. But perhaps the broadest, yet still most helpful, is the fifth and last question: “What would you like to be able to say about the Port in the future? What’s your #1 priority?”
For answering them, all survey respondents are entered into a drawing. By spending just a few minutes of time, you could win a $250 Visa gift card – helpful with the holiday season approaching.
This summer alone Port volunteers have attended Oregon Trail Days, Harbor Days Festival, Summer Splash! at the Hands On Children’s Museum, Saint Martin’s annual Dragon Boat Festival, and various Timberland library events. When school is back in session, they plan to visit local middle and high school classrooms and local colleges across the region.
“Kids are going to be the ones to inherit this plan,” acknowledges Foglia-Jones. “I’m excited to hear what the youth say, they have some really creative ideas.”
Information raised through the surveying will then be passed on to a task force composed of community partners, business owners, local professionals, students, tribal representatives, and the public-at-large. Once survey responses are compiled, “hopefully next summer we will have a plan approved and adopted,” says Robertson.
Read more about the Port of Olympia’s mission, lines of business, economic development, and foreign-trade zone online or find out What Ports Do from the Washington Public Ports Association. Schedule a free tour of the Working Waterfront for your family or group. Then take a few minutes to fill out the online survey or arrange an in-person conversation for your organization or club.
The Port completed a similar planning process as part of the 1995 Comprehensive Plan update. At that time, only Port-owned lands were addressed, but the time and effort resulted in a vision we can see on-the-ground today, including dedicated space for the Olympia Farmer’s Market, Port Plaza, Swantown Boatworks, and many Market District shops and restaurants.
Vision 2050 will deal with more than just properties. They hope to address climate change issues and shape future investment priorities. Don’t pass up the opportunity to influence our changing landscape for generations to come. “The Port has been an integral part of our community for nearly 100 years,” says Robertson. “And it can remain an important tool for many more years to come – we want people to tell us where they think the Port can have the most positive impact moving forward.”