James Thomas

Economic Development

Growth in most of the 35th legislative district has been tepid, lagging both the state and the nation.  This is a difficult problem to address and many of our politicians find it easier to cling to party ideologies, to pursue the goals of special interest groups, or become distracted by issues that have little bearing on the daily lives of the people in our community.  After you’ve elected me, when you visit me at the Capitol, my office will not be decorated with pictures of me with governors and lobbyists and celebrities, it will be decorated with pictures of me meeting with people like you. I want to be reminded every day who it is that I went to Olympia to serve.

It is one thing to talk about jobs and opportunity, another to do something about them.  Economic development begins with an honest inventory of a community’s assets and liabilities.  Beyond the obvious asset of our people, the 35th is blessed with abundant timber, waters teeming with seafood, low population density, fabulous scenery stretching from blue waters to the craggy peaks of the Olympic mountains, and four seasons packed with recreational opportunities.  We are a ferry ride away from Seattle and we include a slice of the Olympia metro. Schools in the 35th are turning out increasingly well-educated high school graduates who go off to university or trade school only to graduate and find job opportunities in Seattle or San Francisco or Chicago … but not where they grew up.  

In the 35th we are unlikely to out-compete King County for large corporate campuses or leading edge biotechnology companies.  Those industries demand specialized infrastructure that we don’t have. What we have in abundance is natural resources and spectacular quality of life.  Focusing on these is the key to jobs and prosperity.

Successful development of our district should focus on value-added industries that capitalize on our existing strengths.  Taylor Shellfish in the southern end of the 35th is an example of what I mean.  Taylor has vertically integrated their business from seed to growing to retail and wholesale shellfish sales to an expanding string of upmarket oyster bars.  

Similar opportunities exist in the timber sector.  Cross-laminated timber (CLT) for instance is rapidly growing to become a billion dollar industry.  The University of Washington is a major research center for CLT technology. We should be developing a CLT operation in the 35th to position ourselves to become leaders in this innovative, renewable, energy-saving building material.

We should also be building at least 500 more homes per year than we are building now.  We have abundant space, outstanding quality of life, and ample opportunities for recreation.   A number of communities in the 35th have relaxed some of the requirements that dissuaded residential builders.  We need to get these builders engaged. There are areas well-suited to high end development and others for starter homes and multi-family development.  More residents means a stronger tax base, better school funding, and a more attractive environment for retail development.

The third leg of our development plan should be recreation and tourism.  Our district is the gateway to the Olympics and encompasses some of the best parts of Hood Canal.  We offer year-round recreational opportunities from hiking to racing sports cars, from sky diving to crabbing.  We should be drawing visitors in with festivals, outdoor concerts, fishing rodeos, and jamborees.

I intend to focus on delivering this sort of development to the voters of the 35th.  We need these kinds of jobs today and we need to be building this kind of vibrant community for tomorrow.

For State Representative, 35th District Position 1
Economic Development