MOSES LAKE — It’s sometimes easy to forget that even with all the high tech businesses moving into the area, agriculture is still Grant County’s largest employer.
Its biggest, and fasted growing, industry.
“This is what drives your economy,” said Paul Kimmell, the Palouse area regional business manager with Avsita Energy in Spokane. “High tech is great, but agriculture is big and it will continue to be big.”
Kimmell, who has worked for Boise Cascade, the Wyoming State Land Office, and as the North Idaho Regional Director for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, gave the keynote address last week at Celebrate Grant County, hosted an organized by the Grant County Economic Development Council.
Speaking to the Columbia Basin Herald, Kimmell said Grant County has a lot of strengths — relatively inexpensive electricity, a capable work force, a strong food processing business, a good climate, and very active port commissions countywide.
According to statistics provided to Kimmell by the consulting firm EMSI, three of the county’s largest industries are all agriculture related — crop production, food processing and support for crop production. And farm related jobs continue to grow in the county.
“You have a diversified economy, so if the tech sector softens, other activities and other sectors can pick up the slack and things can keep humming along,” Kimmell said. “That’s always a good thing.”
He also said Big Bend Community College was a significant advantage for Grant County.
“That’s an important piece,” he said. “Community colleges are great delivery platforms that can cater to the needs of existing businesses.”
The greatest concerns for Grant County, Kimmell said, were making sure that economic growth doesn’t overtake the local and regional workforce, and making sure there is enough housing — including affordable housing — for everyone who works and lives here.
“That’s a challenge everywhere,” he said.
However, Kimmell believes that Grant County office holders and business people have gotten something right. They have figured out how to work together to make the local economy grow.
“Once you have that relationship built, it’s pretty darn powerful,” he said. “And you have that in Grant County.”
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.