By Christi Baron
Forks Forum Editor
In an effort to do more for the communities of Clallam County EDC Executive Director Bob Schroeter hosted a town hall meeting in Forks, Thursday, July 20, at the Rainforest Arts Center. The late afternoon event drew a small group of interested citizens, representing the Forks Chamber of Commerce, West End Business and Professional Association, the City of Forks and city council, county commissioners current and former, a Port of Port Angeles commissioner, a candidate for mayor and several residents relatively new to the West End.
Schroeter compared what is happening in parts of Clallam County to the job losses in coal country. Saying rural America is getting left behind, “We need to diversify here in Clallam County,” Schroeter said.
He also praised the county’s current three commissioners. Saying while they may have differing viewpoints they get along in public and work together and that is how the economy gets going, working together.
“I am looking for ideas, what are economic ideas for not just Forks but all of Clallam County,” Schroeter added.
What is special about Forks?
The group was asked to describe what makes Forks special using one word. Some of the responses included: Hearty, adaptive, helpful, pioneers, protective, remote, timber, Twilight were some of the answers. Forks City Council member Juanita Weissenfels described Forks as sometimes messy … as in the pot is always stirring.
What are some ideas for economic development?
Schroeter shared that many manufacturing jobs are just never coming back, due to mechanization. Some of the ideas shared by the group for future jobs in the area included remote work via computer, advanced wood products, tourism and arts. City of Forks attorney-planner Rod Fleck said, “We need the Department of Natural Resources to meet their harvest levels.” Schroeter said he felt the new Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz was opening a dialog in that direction with her recent tour around the state.
Ronnie Aldrich bought a home in Forks two years ago and now operates an Airbnb inside the Forks city limits. Aldrich said what he sees missing is recreational businesses that could piggyback off the people heading to the Olympic National Park. Where he is from in Alabama he has seen the growth of this type of business that gives people other activities to do besides just going to the park. He added, “But maybe people here don’t want that type of business coming in?”
The group next discussed the issue of having only one plumber, one electrician, and one lawyer. Tim Fletcher, a candidate for Forks mayor, said, “When timber went away we lost a lot.” The issue of needing nurses, school teachers was mentioned and the idea of how to recruit them. Schroeter said that Port Angeles is in the same boat. Adult assisted living type facilities were also mentioned as being needed.
Lissy Andros, executive director with the Forks Chamber of Commerce, said she has many business ideas related to tourism such as bicycle and ATV rentals, especially once the Olympic Discovery Trail has a presence in the West End. The need for another taxi service was mentioned as well as some sort of lodging south of Forks. It was also discussed that in the summer there is not enough lodging.
The topic got around to the marijuana industry and what economic impact it could have on the area. Just like Aldrich, Ed Losby has been in the Forks area about two years. Losby felt there could be more growing operations and retail businesses and questioned why the large building at the Forks Industrial Park, the former Interfor Mill site, could not be used for this. Fleck explained that the building, owned by the city, was built with federal funding and that particular industry is prohibited. Fleck also brought up the fact the City has some infrastructure issues with regard to the water and sewer systems which both need some updating that will cost millions.
After the meeting, Fleck said, “It was a good discussion that reiterated the need to pursue manufacturing jobs in wood products while also thinking about how to grow the tourism sector. Bob and his team have reinitiated the outreach that was a missing component these past few years.”
Schroeter said, “It was a great start and not a bad showing for a summer day. We received some really great feedback – we’ll put together the ideas shared and come back to the City Council and Chamber in September to share the next steps together.”