WENATCHEE — Collaborating with others in the community, adding more diverse voices to decision-making tables and thinking regionally were important steps to take in Chelan and Douglas counties long before the pandemic began this past spring.
Now, those approaches are imperative.
This past week, Our Valley Our Future’s One Community Working Group released its “Our Path Forward: Regional Thinking, Inclusion and Collaboration” report. While much of the Working Group’s research was conducted prior to COVID-19’s arrival, the report’s main recommendations are key if the region is to come together now, persevere through uncertainty and change, and ultimately prosper. Residents and organizations are facing a myriad of enormous public health, economic, housing, transportation, education and child care issues — none of which know jurisdictional boundaries. They deserve that collaborative effort.
Meant to serve as a catalyst for additional conversations and actions, the “Our Path Forward” report takes a look at past and current collaborative efforts, explains why that approach matters more than ever today, and suggests new opportunities for the community to consider.
The report acknowledges the region has a long history of people and organizations thinking and acting regionally. But the One Community Working Group, in its research, concluded transformative changes have been occurring at an increasingly rapid rate over the past several years and those changes will only accelerate in the future, putting significant pressure on our infrastructure and natural areas. Developing the discipline to consider how the region might function more effectively by collaborating rather than competing is critical to making the most of public funds, services and resources — and particularly now as we recover as a community from a pandemic.
One big change that is likely staring the region in the face for years to come is population growth. The state’s population (7.6 million people in 2020) is forecast to increase by another 2 million people by 2040, most of that through in-migration to the state. The Working Group believes Chelan and Douglas counties, while still largely rural, will get a disproportionately large share of those new residents, given this region’s close proximity to the Puget Sound area and quality-of-life draws. That local growth is expected to be fueled by retirees who are very mobile today and by people who can live anywhere and work remotely.
In the report, the Working Group concludes good planning leads to good infrastructure and more orderly development. As more people move to the community, the need to add and replace infrastructure across jurisdictional boundaries will only increase. Infrastructure will only become more costly if it is delayed. Individual jurisdictions cannot bear the responsibility alone.
The “Our Path Forward” report does not recommend mergers or consolidations of government entities, although it notes mergers may result as one potential “how” of regional thinking, inclusion and collaboration, along with such other steps as resource-sharing, partnerships, and planning.
To help bridge cultural divides — Latinos, for example, make up 35 percent of the region’s population — the Working Group recommends the region tap into the energy and ideas from the entire community. The goal of inclusion, the Working Group determined, should not be to replace someone at the table but rather to make the table bigger. Those discussions should link, connect and build — and refrain from being transactional.