The economic and physical landscapes of Snohomish County have evolved significantly over the past century. Once an area renowned for its timber and logging industries, the county today is characterized by aviation, engineering, and professional and health services. But one thing this growing region always has retained is a strong sense of self.
“The economy in South Snohomish County is a really interesting mix,” said Economic Alliance Snohomish County President and CEO Patrick Pierce. “Obviously, being in Snohomish County, aerospace is huge,” he added, noting Boeing’s facility at Paine Field, which celebrates 50 years in 2017. “You also have retail like Alderwood Mall, which is really a regional retail destination there in Lynnwood.”
Additionally, Pierce said professional service firms also are big drivers for the local economy, mentioning Bothell’s Canyon Park, which is home to Phillips Healthcare and Seattle Genetics, the largest life science company in the Puget Sound.
But it’s not just jobs and industry that attract people to South Snohomish County, which encompasses Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Mill Creek, Maltby, and the northern portion of Bothell. In fact, many people who live in cities like Edmonds and Lynnwood leave the county for jobs elsewhere.
What brings them to this area is a quality of life that they can’t necessarily find or afford in Seattle or on the Eastside.
It’s this aspect of the area that is attracting young families, driving population growth, and shifting demographics.
As of April 1, the population of Snohomish County was 789,400, an increase of about 76,000 from 2010, and the state projects the population will grow to just under 1 million by 2040.
“If you look at the data, we have about 100,000 people that come into Snohomish County as a whole every day for work. We have about 150,000 people a day that work and live in Snohomish County, and then about 190,000 people that leave Snohomish County every day to go to work somewhere else in the region,” said Pierce.
The number of people entering and exiting the city on a daily basis isn’t a bad thing. However, Patrick Doherty, economic development director for the City of Edmonds, said it does represent an imbalance, an imbalance that Edmonds is currently trying to address.
“In town, we have about 13,200 jobs,” said Doherty. “What the Census told us was that only about 4,200 of the 21,000 Edmonds residents in the workforce work in Edmonds, so that means 17,000 workers go elsewhere for their jobs.”
And about 9,000 of the jobs in Edmonds are filled by people coming from outside the city.
Doherty said these numbers illustrate a need for more higher-paying jobs and more affordable housing.
However, there still is more affordable commercial space than, say, in Seattle, so some businesses already are reaping the benefits of doing business in Edmonds.
In 2009, Ten Gun Design, a design firm that works with clients like Microsoft, had outgrown its space on Dexter Avenue in Seattle. At this time in the company’s history, the three founding partners were married, had kids, and had all moved north, said CEO Janelle Milodragovich.
Wasting countless hours on their commutes and in need of a larger yet more affordable space, the founders decided to relocate the company to Edmonds.
Since moving, Ten Gun Design has grown from a staff of 15 to more than 50, and recently has relocated to an even bigger space in downtown Edmonds. Milodragovich said there are many reasons doing business in Edmonds has been a win for Ten Gun Design, but for her the things that stand out include the city’s robust chamber of commerce and downtown association, a more affordable cost of doing business, and the scenic setting that Edmonds’ downtown and waterfront provide.
“It’s almost like we’re set up in a beach town,” said Milodragovich. “It’s not urban, but it’s much more vibrant than I think people might expect.”
As more people and businesses move to South Snohomish County, housing and office space are in higher demand. However, with many areas in the southern portion of the county already built out, cities are looking at creative ways to add density.
“The community has bought into our growth plan,” said David Kleitsch, economic development director for the City of Lynnwood. “They acknowledge and embrace growth, but they want their single-family residential neighborhoods preserved and protected.”
As Lynnwood prepares for future growth, the city has identified ways to add density to its existing City Center, and it also has plans to annex the area north and east of the city’s boundary line.
“When you look at our annexation area, we would be 80,000 in population if we annexed that area,” said Kleitsch. An increase of that size would more than double Lynnwood’s current population of 36,950.
Diversity has been another new byproduct of Lynnwood’s growth, something its mayor, Nicola Smith, said her city — and the entire southern portion of the county — has embraced fully.
Just take a look at the countless ethnic businesses lining Highway 99 or the wide number of languages spoken within the area’s schools.
“A couple of the schools in our school district have 80 different languages spoken by the children and their families,” said Smith.
“When you look at foreign-born, we’re comparable to Bellevue,” added Kleitsch.
Looking ahead to the next several years, with investments in light rail and the addition of commercial air service at Paine Field, South Snohomish County, nestled between Everett to the north and Seattle and the Eastside to the south, might just be at the center of it all.
Thumbnail photo courtesy City of Edmonds/Janine Harles, Tom Marks, Bruce Coxley