Lacey has created a $2.5 million strategic investment fund it hopes will stimulate economic development and create jobs.
Mayor Andy Ryder announced the fund at last week’s Thurston County Chamber of Commerce State of the Community address, and Ryder and City Manager Scott Spence shared some ideas on how the money might be spent.
The strategic investment fund was created by re-directing some city reserves, Finance Director Troy Woo said, including $2 million that was once earmarked for a City Hall expansion.
The fund could be used to offset the cost of sewer and water connection fees that can run well into the thousands of dollars for an independent restaurant owner, Spence said.
In addition to helping small business owners, another idea is to improve the city through key investments, Ryder said. For example, a section of the Woodland Trail was once home to a train depot, and Ryder would like to see the train depot recreated for the trailhead, he said.
Ryder also would like to see more investments in the city’s Woodland District, which is bordered by Pacfic Avenue, the Chehalis-Western Trail, Interstate 5 and College Street. The city would like to see the district become a mixed-use destination, similar to a downtown.
Ryder also would like to see access from College Street into the Woodland District improved by adding another pedestrian crossing or even a pedestrian bridge that would link the campus of Saint Martin’s University to the district.
By improving the city through infrastructure investments or by assisting business owners, the city hopes to entice employers and put a dent in its jobs-per-capita deficit. Compared to Olympia and Tumwater, Lacey has about half the jobs it needs for its population, or 0.56 jobs per capita, according to 2010 U.S. Census data, the most recent available.
“Every community aspires to have job opportunities,” Spence said. “People want to work where they live and not have to travel an hour or more a day.
“We need to do more than just talk about economic development,” he said.
Lacey’s strategic investment fund differs from one in Olympia in that small business owners won’t apply to the city for loans. Instead, funding actions will be council-approved and city-directed, Spence said.
The city also has made two other economic development-related moves: The city’s Community Development Department is now the Community & Economic Development Department, and Lacey has launched a new economic development site