There are more than 18,000 cities, towns and villages in America, 282 of them in Washington. Every one of these cities is rethinking its economic state, its opportunities and challenges.
Like every city, West Richland seeks to serve its citizens and business community with excellent services, and to leverage new and expanded sources of revenue to weather what may be a "perfect" storm.
-- A new West Richland: West Richland is a vital community composed of active young families in addition to seniors, professionals and retired Hanford workers. It is also one of the fastest growing cities in the Northwest, with population growth of some 10,000 in about eight years.
The city is increasingly a "home" of choice, just minutes away from Battelle and Hanford, and easily accessible to neighboring communities where West Richland citizens travel to work. Because of its vibrancy, the city also is an attractive location for new and affordable housing, parks and recreational opportunities, plus the added bonus of scenic views.
-- Economic opportunity: In 2008, the city completed its Economic Development Strategic Plan, funded by the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, along with matching grant partners Port of Kennewick and Benton Rural Electric Association.
The plan identifies and prioritizes six anchor concepts, which will enhance economic development, commerce and industry in the city while maintaining West Richland's small-town atmosphere.
Key in the plan is a Van Giesen (Highway 224) "Renaissance" redevelopment from the bridge across the Yakima River, and from West Richland's entrance at the foot of Red Mountain.
-- Red Mountain neighbor: West Richland is poised to embrace the east and north sides of Red Mountain, one of the world's top wine grape producers. This positions the city to provide infrastructure and support for the Red Mountain vision. It would also help balance the city's economic base by adding a retail commercial corridor and new wineries to serve the city's residents, tourists and regional citizens.
-- Wine industry & tourism jobs: One of the nation's growth industries is tourism, and the wine industry is also one of the few industries experiencing job growth. The state has seen a nearly 300 percent increase in the number of wineries in just a decade.
A 2009 Washington State Department of Commerce report stated that, "Simply put, tourism is economic development at a time when economic development is needed more than ever."
According to a 2009 Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau announcement, visitors to our area spent $366.6 million in the previous year. In addition, visitor spending has steadily increased over the years.
-- Strategic investment in wine tourism: A decade ago, the West Richland City Council and staff embarked on a strategic investment to support the emerging Southeastern Washington wine industry.
The Red Mountain Center and West Richland Wine Estates were born through collaboration with economic development partners the Port of Kennewick, the Lewis & Clark Ranch landowners, the Benton Rural Electric Association, and the West Richland Area Chamber of Commerce. More than $15 million in infrastructure was invested to support this development destination at the foot of Red Mountain.
That investment is paying off. In 2007, the Port of Kennewick and city officials announced that West Richland would be home to a new winery, Pacific Rim Wine Estates. Recently, that facility was expanded to include Ascentia Wine Estates, owners of Covey Run and Columbia Winery. In 2009, Joel Tefft announced construction of Black Heron Distillery and Port Works, one of only a few distilleries in the state.
Last year saw continuing growth in Washington's wine grape production, with an increase of 8 percent over 2008. Red Mountain and its wineries, distilleries and enthusiasts stand to capitalize on a growth industry that will help diversify Southeastern Washington's regional economy.
Expect to hear more in 2010 and beyond of West Richland's progress in redeveloping Van Giesen, Red Mountain Center growth, and support and diversification of the regional economy.