business acumen | Humboldt County is in for quite a ride – Times-Standard

My previous columns, “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” and “Remember History, But Beware of Trying to Recreate It,” focused on the significant opportunities Humboldt County has presented itself in recent years have, and how much change these projects could drive in our community. Most are now familiar with the names Nordic Aquafarms, Google, Vero Networks and Cal Poly Humboldt. Each of these projects would be meaningful to our community. Overall, however, they will reshape much of who we are.

I have been the Executive Director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission for most of the last 23 years. I say “mostly” because I quit that job twice just to come back. But that’s a story for another day.

When I first took up this position in 1999, the economic challenges facing this county were significant. We suffered from rapid divestment of companies, particularly in the timber industry, but other ‘marquee’ manufacturers also left the area in the late 90’s to mid 2000’s. Layoffs were announced regularly, but at least housing was affordable and there was a willing workforce for local and new employers. Tech companies were booming elsewhere, but our decrepit broadband network meant any business that relied solely on connectivity had no interest in our community.

There was no public boardwalk or walking trails in close proximity to my Eureka office, and fewer restaurants and events along the bay. Abandoned and vacant landmark properties degraded the Old Town and Downtown blocks. Luckily, through the investment and hard work of the likes of the Arkley family, Kurt Kramer, Redwood Capital Bank and others, these properties have grown, including the Professional Building, the Vance Hotel, the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts, the Eureka Theater and the Historic buildings along Second Street (including Eureka’s 1882 Post Office) have been saved and brought back to life.

Humboldt County in 2022 is in a very different position. In addition to the projects listed above, the federal government has only announced the auctioning of lease agreements for the development of floating offshore wind power platforms in the past few weeks; and Crowley Maritime, a 130-year-old multi-billion dollar company, signed an agreement with the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District to develop and operate a terminal that will become California’s first offshore wind hub. The development of a large offshore wind power industry has made further strides.

While there are many opportunities for the Humboldt Bay region, I am concerned that we are unprepared for the scale and, perhaps more importantly, the speed at which these changes can occur. Each of these projects creates large jobs, yet we are currently facing a labor shortage. Our labor force has shrunk by about 10% since 2010 and there are fewer officially ‘unemployed’ people in the county than the estimated number of jobs based on these developments. This means that more people will need to enter or re-enter the labor market to meet the needs of these companies. We’re going to need workers’ housing, and lots of it, to accommodate people returning to Humboldt County and new people coming in.

While we may have an embarrassment of wealth (or at least the promise of it) in the Humboldt Bay region, our more remote communities are suffering. Our beautiful gateway communities of Orick, Willow Creek and Garberville/Redway are all suffering. We cannot forget her in our enthusiasm for the bay’s potential. We also need to focus on the changes happening there and make sure the benefits that Mid County is enjoying are shared with them.

These and other issues will be central to the development of the county’s new comprehensive economic development strategy. This document can have real meaning today more than ever, not only because of the opportunities discussed above, but also because federal and state governments are making unprecedented investments in infrastructure. I encourage everyone to learn more about this process and make their voices heard. Visit gohumco.com for more information. In the meantime, hold on! This could be quite a ride.

Gregg Foster is Executive Director of Economic Development for the Redwood Region. Born and raised in Miranda, he’s at the age where people start asking him questions about the “old days” of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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