If tourists can’t find the amenities in Birch Bay, they won’t spend money there. That’s the logic behind the latest economic development initiative from the Port of Bellingham, which has committed to partnering with the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce to provide directional signs at strategic points throughout the area.
“We have $10,000 on the docket for signage,” said chamber president Dave Hiller. “Hopefully by the spring we’ll have a series of well thought out, attractive signs in place.”
Dodd Snodgrass, economic development specialist for the Port of Bellingham, introduced the signage initiative to chamber members at a meeting November 16. In 2011 the port began looking at ways to boost economic development in Birch Bay. The port supported a study to look at tourism opportunities and the resulting list of projects was handed off to the chamber. A need for improved gateway and directional signage in and around Birch Bay was one of the projects on the list.
“A couple months ago [Birch Bay resident and former president of the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce] John Gargett brought this back to our attention, and we saw this as an opportunity to partner with Birch Bay,” Snodgrass said. On November 19, the port commissioners adopted a 2014 budget that includes $10,000 for design and development of community/business signage in Birch Bay.
The signs would be intended to help visitors find their way to attractions, amenities and businesses in Birch Bay.
“It sounds like this would be something that would help support your business community,” Snodgrass said.
He also gave some background on the port itself, which has seen tremendous growth in the last few years.
The Port of Bellingham operates seven properties throughout Whatcom County, including two marinas, a seaport shipping terminal, a seaport passenger terminal, waterfront real estate properties and the airport.
Passengers at Bellingham International Airport have multiplied six-fold since 2004, from just under 100,000 passengers per year to around 600,000 in 2012. Interior redesign is expected to wrap up in early 2014, and a further expansion is in the works.
“We may have one of the fastest growing airports on the west coast,” Snodgrass said.
As of 2008, the port directly supported 4,000 jobs in Whatcom County. That number has likely increased since 2008. Despite the growth, the port’s burden on taxpayers has gone down every year since 2007, with a current levy rate of $0.26 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
One of the port’s largest projects is the redevelopment of a former industrial site on the Bellingham waterfront.
“It’s a major project with regional significance. It will be a long-term project, but it will have benefits for the county in terms of taxes and jobs,” Snodgrass said.
Hiller, who was voted as the chamber’s member of the month for November, said the chamber recently applied for and received a $32,500 grant from the Whatcom Lodging Tax Committee. Of that money, $10,000 has been earmarked to go toward signage.