Chamber event plans for East End growth
Adam Amato / The Chronicle Jack DeGoede, co-owner, DeGoede Bulb Farm and Gardens, Mossyrock, kicked off the East Lewis County Economic Development Summit Friday morning at Lake Mayfield Resort outside Mossyrock. DeGoede was one of three guest speakers at the gathering which included sessions to brainstorm ideas for solutions to the challenges of economic development in the East Lewis County region.

MOSSYROCK - Developers are chomping at the bit to come to Lewis County, just waiting for the all clear from a growth board, according to Robert Johnson, the county's director of community development.

"A lot of people are at the border, so to speak, like the Oklahoma Land Rush," he said. "But I don't think we want development just for development sake."

Johnson, advocating the county's role in regional planning, spoke to nearly 30 in attendance at the East Lewis County Economic Development Summit at the Lake Mayfield Resort on Friday. One of the goals of the day-long event, sponsored by the East Lewis County Chamber of Commerce, was to give the East End an economic plan for future development, according to Paul Stewart, the chamber's executive director.

"Once the invalidity is lifted, the growth coming into the area is going to be humongous," Stewart said.

The county's comprehensive plan was declared invalid in 2004 by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board because of a failure to adequately protect long-term agricultural land.

By uniting the outlying communities in East Lewis County, from Interstate 5 to White Pass, Stewart said the East End would have more say in their own economic future.

"The summit is the first step in becoming one," he said. "A lot of rural communities throughout the nation are coming together. It's the only way to survive."

On Friday morning, attendees were divided into four small groups and tasked with identifying the area's strengths and weaknesses for growth in the East End.

Victor Vasquez, a former special assistant to the director of the state's department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, facilitated a group tasked with the topic of rural business development and tourism. He suggested the idea of small, "micro businesses," companies with 10 or fewer employees, linking together to form co-operatives of similar businesses.

"You need to look beyond one business, especially in an area with limited resources," he said.

Vasquez also urged the group to take action.

"You can network forever, but you need a solid blueprint," he said.

Stewart said he hopes to host a follow-up meeting in eight to nine months, with a working plan on how to address the various challenges, such as workforce and infrastructure shortages. It's an event he hopes the governor attends, he said.

"We're crossing over many different areas, and you really have to be determined to do this," Stewart said. "We're starting something that has never existed."