Governor Jay Inslee today directed the state Department of Commerce to release $150,000 from its Economic Development Strategic Reserve Account to support local economies affected by the Skagit River bridge collapse on Interstate 5.
"We know this bridge closure has already significantly impacted the surrounding economy and we're working to address that," Inslee said. "We've seen how quickly this community has rallied together to help each other and brainstorm creative solutions. We now need to give the community the resources it needs to implement those solutions."
Funds from the strategic reserve account cannot be distributed directly to businesses but will be used to support marketing and promotion efforts. The Department of Commerce is working with local partners in Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan Counties. Together, the group will develop and launch a regional media and communications plan and possibly other services to inform the public that area businesses and attractions are open and easily accessible by several alternate routes and ferries.
Conversations are already underway and Commerce will move quickly to contract with one local organization -- most likely the Economic Development Association of Skagit County -- on behalf of the other counties and groups such as local chambers of commerce and tourism organizations.
"People need to know that theses counties are open for business and that the bridge collapse need not interfere with vacation, business, or recreation plans. The detours are working efficiently, delays are minimal," said Commerce Director Brian Bonlender "Spring is prime time for whale watching and other classic Washington sightseeing opportunities -- it's a great time to visit this corner of the state."
As soon as the full impact of the bridge closure is understood, Governor Inslee may also pursue a formal disaster declaration from the Small Business Administration (SBA). The Washington State Military Department, through its Emergency Management Division, is encouraging businesses to evaluate economic impacts and determine if they have sustained substantial losses caused by the fallen bridge.
Businesses should report economic injury information to county emergency management officials. The state's Emergency Management Division will review that data to confirm whether businesses will qualify for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).
For the state to qualify for SBA EIDL assistance, a minimum of five businesses must demonstrate substantial economic injury. Businesses that suffered uninsured economic losses and are in need of SBA financial assistance not otherwise available through other means must fill out an EIDL form and return it to their local emergency management office. A copy of that form can be found here: http://www.emd.wa.gov/disaster/documents/EconomicInjuryWorksheet.pdf
"We would like to thank the Governor for making these funds available," Rob Fix, Executive Director Port of Bellingham, said of the Strategic Reserve Account funds. "In the days ahead, we will be working closely with our partners in Skagit, Whatcom, Island, and San Juan Counties putting these funds to work in order to ensure our regional economy remains vibrant and strong."
Sunday, the governor and First Lady had lunch in Mount Vernon with local business leaders and shopped in Burlington.
"Governor Inslee has been here around the clock to listen to the needs and concerns of the community. He has assembled an incredible team and marshaled significant resources to respond quickly. We are so appreciative of the Governor's efforts in all of this and thank him for assisting us to ensure that commerce remains alive and healthy during this period," said Don Wick, Executive Director of the Economic Development Association of Skagit County.
Store owners at the Burlington Outlet Mall have reported customer traffic down at least 50 percent from projected over the Memorial Day weekend, with many small local businesses suffering more significant losses.
Captain Brett Ginther, owner of Deception Pass Tours, reacted to the news of the Governor's outreach campaign by saying, "After a fairly disappointing Memorial Day weekend, the Governor's plan is music to my ears. My hope is that it will help dispel the myth that it's tough to reach Skagit and Island Counties."