By Don Linnertz
It’s been a little over a year since I joined the staff at TwispWorks and I want to take this opportunity to thank the Methow Valley community for your support and encouragement.
For those of you not familiar with TwispWorks, we are a nonprofit, community-wide resource located on the 6.4-acre campus in downtown Twisp that was once home to a U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station. Our mission is to increase the economic vitality of the Methow Valley.
This past year has been a year of dramatic change and growth for us. Under the leadership of an exceptional board and tenacious staff, we’ve established a five-year plan that includes finishing the work to restore and revitalize the TwispWorks campus and investing in the businesses and organizations who operate here. Having this self-sustaining model in place has allowed us to continue to expand our focus to the broader valley. With generous support from the Methow Valley Long Term Recovery Board, we are developing programs that we hope will have a measurable impact on our entire local economy.
Looking at recent U.S. Census and other data there are some unique economic challenges facing our community:
• The median household income in the Methow Valley is $40,377 — that’s just two-thirds of the state median income yet our home values are 5 percent higher than the state median, making housing affordability a challenge.
• 30 percent of children live below the poverty line — for a family of four, that’s $24,000 per year.
• 56 percent of full-time Methow Valley residents are in the work force — a much lower percent than the national average, highlighting a challenge for businesses to fill open jobs.
• 60 percent of local families have both parents in the work force, highlighting the need for quality child care.
• A strong tourism industry is a great benefit to our businesses, but it also causes wide seasonal fluctuations in employment levels. There are approximately 400 fewer jobs in March than in August — a challenge for our friends and neighbors who rely on those jobs for their livelihood. These statistics reflect what we’re hearing from many of the business we talk to — that it is difficult for them to find, retain and pay employees a living wage. That’s where we plan to help.
No single solution
We know that there is not a “one size fits all” solution when looking at the local economy. Many residents live on retirement income, while others work multiple jobs or supplement the work they love with the work that pays the bills. Many people own and operate small businesses, while others work from home for companies based far away. Some people meet their needs through barter and trade. There are people in our community who feel the economy is working well for them, others who have adapted to living with little economic certainty and still more who find the daily challenge of supporting themselves and their families a source of great anxiety.
Taking into account all the unique characteristics and perspectives that influence our economy, TwispWorks has gathered a diverse group of valley residents and leaders to envision a Methow Valley economy that is resilient, nimble and able to absorb change gracefully while retaining its unique identity.
Our shared goal is to create a healthy economy where individuals are able to meet their needs with enough left over to enjoy the natural environment and cultural richness of the Methow Valley. The TwispWorks campus will continue to be a place where existing business owners are supported by the community and have access to the resources and tools they need to be sustainable and grow. And we will focus on new businesses and entrepreneurs who will be supported by a growing network of resources to help their ideas and business flourish in the Methow Valley. We will continue to actively promote the Methow Made program and encourage valley residents and visitors alike to Buy Methow. And we are collaborating with civic leaders to build strong downtown cores, ensuring the valley’s towns are thriving, vibrant places all year round.
We’re excited to be carrying the conversation on building a healthy Methow Valley economy. We’re grateful to be working with strategic partners to tackle tough issues like the lack of affordable housing and quality child care. And we’re thrilled to be part of a community that values taking care of each other.
In this spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving, we invite you to consider how you can participate in building this healthy economy. Share your ideas with us. Consider making more of your purchases locally. Think about new business opportunities in the valley that fit your skills and experience and let’s work together to explore your vision. Let us know about challenges your small business might be facing. Take advantage of the classes we’re beginning to offer at TwispWorks for both business owners and employees. Engage in the conversation around what a healthy economy means for you and your family.
I welcome your visit to the TwispWorks campus any time or you can check out www.twispworks.org to learn more about all that we’re doing to strengthen our community with a vital local economy. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!
Don Linnertz is executive director of TwispWorks.