October 18, 2021
Business and Community Updates
Cup of Joe Returns with Tax Structure Discussion
Cup of Joe, the information and networking event that came to a screeching halt during COVID, returns this Wednesday with a virtual event allowing Columbia County businesses and residents a chance to weigh in on Washington's Tax Structure.

In 2017, the Washington State Legislature established the Tax Structure Work Group (TSWG) to identify options to make the Washington State tax code more fair, adequate, stable, and transparent. As of 2019, the TSWG is comprised of bipartisan Washington State legislators, as well as representatives from the Governor’s Office, the Washington State Department of Revenue, the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC), and the Association of Washington Cities (AWC). The TSWG facilitates public discussions throughout the state about the advantages and disadvantages of the state's current and potential tax structure to inform recommendations to improve Washington State’s tax structure to benefit individuals, families, and businesses in Washington State.

Representatives from the Tax Structure Work Group will make a presentation at this Wednesday's Cup of Joe, followed by an opportunity for local businesses and residents to ask questions and provide feedback on our tax structure and the ideas that are presented. Anyone is welcome to attend.

Cup of Joe - Washington's Tax Structure
Wednesday, October 20
7:30 - 8:30 am via Zoom
Tuesday Presentation on our Local State Parks
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has been working on a long-term improvement plan for our three local state parks. As part of that process, a virtual public meeting about Palouse Falls, Lyons Ferry, and Lewis & Clark Trail State Parks will be held on Tuesday, October 19th at 6:00 pm. The public is invited to attend, and may submit written questions, comments, and suggestions during the meeting or online through November 30. Two in-person meetings will also be held in November. Visit the Palouse Parks Project Website for more info on the plan, the public meetings, and a link to submit comments.

Virtual Public Meeting - Palouse Falls, Lyons Ferry, and Lewis & Clark Trail State Parks
Tuesday, October 19th at 6:00 pm
Click on the link to join the meeting:
Healthy Youth Survey Responses Needed
We need your input to help our youth! Each year our community collects information about youth substance use in our community in order to plan for and provide appropriate services through the Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative. We need to collect 100 survey responses and have not yet met that target. Please take the survey and ask your friends and neighbors to take it as well. It is an anonymous survey that takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete: Click Healthy Youth Survey to start.
Broadband Update
Pending receipt of matching funds from Columbia County, the Dayton Broadband Fiber-to-the-Home Project is on track to start construction in the spring of 2022. The Port will build the infrastructure, and our existing local providers, Emerge by Inland Cellular, Columbia iConnect, and PocketiNet will provide the internet service to the customer. Another company from the region has also expressed interest in providing service. This project will provide stability through the publicly-owned infrastructure while giving customers a choice of providers. It is a true public/private partnership that is working well in other rural communities.

The Port continues to look for opportunities to extend fiber service into the more rural parts of the county, and has recently submitted two grant applications for funds to construct a fiber line to the west of Dayton. This extension would serve about 50 homes and businesses along the Highway 12 corridor, and both Emerge and Columbia iConnect plan to offer service using Port fiber if we are successful in securing funds.
What's Happening Downtown?
A new art and music studio has opened in the former Mace Mead Works building at 250 E. Main Street. Call Lori or Carl for more information. Numbers in the photo.

The Chamber of Commerce will hold a Main Street Trick-or-Treat Drive Thru behind Dingles from 3 - 5 pm on Sunday, October 31.

Port staff continues work with a potential buyer for Woody's, a new downtown business start-up, and a downtown business expansion/relocation. We are here to help in any way we can, and have resources to refer to when outside help is needed. Call or email the Port if you need assistance. 509-382-2577 or jennie@portofcolumbia.org .
The Dayton Development Task Force's Dog-Friendly Downtown Committee, with assistance from the City of Dayton Public Works crew, successfully installed a new water fountain in front of Washington Federal Bank.

It features a water bottle filling station, a drinking fountain, and a pet-level drinking bowl for our furry friends. Woof!

Thank you City of Dayton for your cooperation and assistance in improving our downtown.

Business Assistance Available Through the SBDC
The Walla Walla Small Business Development Center has a new (old) business advisor ready to help Columbia County start-up and existing businesses succeed. Paul Bowen is "new" in that he is replacing outgoing advisor Judy Jones, but "old" because he held the position briefly once before. The Port of Columbia contributes funds annually to this organization so they will continue to provide business advising service in our county. Don't hesitate to reach out. Paul will come to Dayton to meet with you.

Paul Bowen
Walla Walla SBDC
Bluewood Welcomes New General Manager
Even though our hearts are still heavy after the loss of Bluewood General Manager Kim Clark, who is sorely missed, time marches on and business continues. Bluewood announced the hiring of Peter Korfiatis as the new general manager in early October, and we welcome Peter to the business community and wish him well. Click here to read about Mr. Korfiatis and his new position.
Unemployment Rate Remains Historically Low
The August unemployment rate came in at 4.3% for Columbia County, mirroring the trends of the last few months. This is below the state rate of 5.0% and is within the range of what is considered full employment. Businesses are still looking for employees to fill positions, and housing and childcare remain limiting factors to employment here.

So, you may ask, if the economy is so great, why are there so many empty storefronts downtown? Besides the rise in online shopping, one terrible statistic tells another part of the story. Our retail sales per capita is a pathetic $7,633 compared to the national average of $13,443. That means people are driving elsewhere to shop, which doesn't lend itself to a bustling downtown. This by no means the only reason rural downtowns are struggling, but it is a major contributor. Any county with a Costco has the highest retail sales per capita in our state.
CWW Railroad
Discussion seems to be swirling about the fate of the Port-owned CWW Rail line. In hopes of clearing up confusion, here's what's happening:

The rail line is currently leased to a private operator, who is in charge of maintenance and operations. There are not enough shippers on the line to generate the kind of revenue the operator needs to maintain and improve the line to a high standard. (This has been true since UP gave up the line in the 1990s.) The Port Commission hired a consultant to estimate the costs of bringing the rail line up to a condition that would allow faster travel, which reduces costs for the operator. That estimate came in at almost $30 million for full rehabilitation. This kind of investment would also likely be required before any kind of passenger or tourism train could be substituted for our current freight train. The Port Commission instructed staff to discuss with shippers the value of the line to their business operations as well as future shipping plans. The Port also met with the Port of Walla Walla to gather input on the status of shipping in their county.

At this time, operations continue as per the Port's lease agreement with the operator. Any decisions made to cease or change the nature of the operation of the line is monumental and can't be taken lightly. Port Commissioners are doing the research necessary to determine the highest and best use of this important transportation corridor. Port staff is happy to answer questions, so give us a call. 509-382-2577