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Port Partners with King County Cities to Advance Economic Recovery

July 28, 2020

Four years ago the Port of Seattle created a groundbreaking new program to ensure that the benefits of a thriving port reach into communities across King County. 

We also set out to overcome a specific economic challenge we heard from city level policymakers and business leaders in smaller communities. They could pursue economic development initiatives that would accelerate job and revenue growth, but larger projects required investment beyond their budgets.    

To close that investment gap, the Port’s Economic Development Partnership Program successfully combined Port grant funds with city matching funds or in-kind contributions. Depending on population, cities may each receive between $5,000 and $65,000 in funding. Since the program's inception, the Port has awarded around $3.3 million in program funding through annual grants to 31 participating cities in King County.  

Pivoting for recovery and relief

Our cities face a different economic crisis today. Every city desperately needs to help its small businesses survive while regenerating local consumer confidence.  

Small businesses have a huge impact on local and regional economies. They account for two-thirds of all new jobs created in the United States since the 1970s. Today, 55 percent of the American workforce is employed by small businesses.

The COVID pandemic has had a profound impact on small business.  A March 2020 survey from the National Federation of Independent Business reported that 42 percent of small businesses reported seeing slower sales. In Seattle, 60 percent of small businesses were considering wage cuts and staffing cutbacks, while 35 percent of businesses said they may have to close. 

To provide small businesses relief and help regenerate local economies, the Port has narrowed the grant program’s focus to ensure city partners are providing relevant assistance during these challenging times.  

Cities are using 2020 grant funds to meet changing needs:  

  • Five East King County cities launched (Re)Startup 425 to provide a central website for small business assistance in five languages, CARES ACT loan resources, business resiliency resources, and a “What’s Open” virtual map
  • The city of Kent expanded a workforce program to address needs for dislocated workers and moved classes online 
  • The cities of Burien, Enumclaw, Mercer Island, and Woodinville started working closely with their chambers of commerce to communicate crucial information to businesses and develop projects that aid re-opening and recovery 

City partners recently helped evaluate and suggest changes to the 2021 partnership grant program. To address COVID-related economic challenges, cities are recommending that next year’s grant cycle underwrite efforts to help small businesses survive and initiatives that regenerate consumer confidence around shopping and visiting local attractions. 

Based on these recommendations, the Port plans to narrow next year’s grant funding to focus on small business assistance, tourism development, and local/regional placemaking. Trade development, workforce development, and feasibility/ planning studies will also still be allowed but will require a pre-application consultation with Port staff to make sure initiatives support COVID-19 relief and recovery. Business attraction and community branding initiatives not connected to COVID-19 recovery will be discouraged.

Focusing our economic development efforts on supporting our small businesses is essential for the long-term economic viability of every community. The focus of our work may have changed, but our vision for this region as a globally competitive leader and our commitment to this vision is stronger than ever.  

Image credit: Buy Local Auburn and the City of Auburn Economic Development Department.

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