Business Sense | Humboldt County is in for quite a ride – Eureka Times-Standard

My previous columns, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” and “Remember history but beware of trying to recreate it,” focused on the significant opportunities that have presented themselves to Humboldt County over the past few years and how much change these projects could drive in our community. By now, most are familiar with the names Nordic Aquafarms, Google, Vero Networks, and Cal Poly Humboldt. Any one of these projects would be significant for our community. Altogether, however, they will remake much of what we are.

I’ve been the executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission for the most part of the past 23 years. I say “for the most part” because I’ve quit this job twice, only to return. But that’s a story for another day.

When I first started this job in 1999, the economic challenges facing this county were significant. We were suffering from rapid business disinvestment, most notably in the timber industry, but other “marquee” manufacturers also left the area in the late ‘90s through the mid-2000s. Layoff announcements came regularly, but at least housing was still affordable and there was a willing labor force available for local and new employers. Tech businesses were booming elsewhere, but our decrepit broadband network meant that any business that was all reliant upon connectivity would not be interested in our community.

Within close walking distance of my Eureka office, there wasn’t a public Boardwalk or trails and fewer restaurants and events along the bay. Abandoned and vacant landmark properties degraded the blocks of Old Town and downtown. Fortunately, through the investment and hard work of folks like the Arkley family, Kurt Kramer, Redwood Capital Bank, and others, these properties including the Professional Building, Vance Hotel, Arkley Center for the Performing Arts, Eureka Theater, and the historic buildings along Second Street (including Eureka’s 1882 post office) were saved and brought back to life.

Humboldt County in 2022 is in a very different position. In addition to the projects listed, above, just in the past few weeks, the federal government announced the auction for leases to develop offshore floating wind power platforms; and Crowley Maritime, a 130-year-old multi-billion-dollar company, signed an agreement with the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District to develop and operate a terminal that will become California’s first hub servicing offshore wind energy installation. The development of a major offshore wind power industry moved more steps forward.

While opportunities abound for the Humboldt Bay region, my fear is that we are not prepared for the scale and, perhaps more importantly, the speed at which these changes can occur. Each of these projects are big job creators, yet we are currently facing a labor shortage. Our labor force has shrunk by about 10% from 2010 and there are fewer officially “unemployed” people in the county than the number of jobs estimated from these developments. This means that we will need to have more people entering or re-entering the job market to meet these companies’ needs. We’ll need workforce housing, and lots of it, to accommodate people returning to Humboldt County and new folks coming in.

While we might have an embarrassment of riches (or at least the promise of that) in the Humboldt Bay region, our more remote communities are suffering. Our beautiful gateway communities of Orick, Willow Creek, and Garberville/Redway are all hurting. We can’t forget them in our excitement for the potential of the bay. We need to also focus on the changes happening there and ensure that the benefits enjoyed by “mid-county” are shared with them.

These and other issues will be central to the county’s development of its new Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. Now more than ever, this document can have real meaning, not only because of the opportunities discussed above, but also because the federal and state governments are making unprecedented investments in infrastructure. I encourage everyone to learn more about this process and make your voice heard. More information can be found at gohumco.com. In the meantime, hang on! This might be quite a ride.

Gregg Foster is executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development. He was born and raised in Miranda and is now at the age where people ask him questions about the “olden days” of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.