Snohomish County business - Reardon's 'business approach'

By Jane Hodges
Seattle Times Snohomish County bureau


EVERETT, WA— Incoming Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon says he plans to draw on input from business leaders and on business principles to manage the county government.

Though he knows county government isn't a business, he believes the county should operate with a business plan — one that includes a balanced budget, emergency reserves, clear priorities and a long-term economic-development agenda.

County business leaders say his approach is positive, especially on the heels of the Boeing 7E7 win and with other prospects for the county, including a track for NASCAR races that could bring in $87 million annually, more biotech firms, new hotels and tourism connected to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

"It's a very business approach," Reardon said, noting he intends to spend his first 100 days in office reviewing county finances and the 2004 budget, which he may present in modified form in June.

Reardon said he'll also work to set priorities for government and economic development with the aid of department heads, the County Council, the Snohomish County Economic Development Council and a new "citizens cabinet."

The cabinet will advise him on the county's strengths and weaknesses in terms of competitiveness, much as the state's Competitiveness Council advised Gov. Gary Locke over the past two years. Reardon said the cabinet will be chaired by Michael Martino, the president and chief executive of Sonus Pharmaceuticals in Bothell, and Connie Niva, a former member of the state Transportation Commission and Everett City Council.

Reardon said the cabinet will help clarify the roles of the public and private sectors, where business and government have separate jobs in fostering a good environment for business.

"Government's job isn't to create jobs; it's to create the opportunity for businesses to create jobs," he said. "I'm not in the business of subsidizing the private sector."

Reardon said he's concerned about the county budget, which, if adopted and managed similarly in 2005, would leave only $100,000 in reserves by 2006.

His options, he says, are to advocate for raising taxes, cutting spending or expanding the economy to bring in more income. He favors the third approach.

Goals for county

From an economic-development perspective, Reardon said, he wants the county to:

• Continue exploring the possibility of working with ISC, the Florida-based track developer considering sites for a NASCAR track in Kitsap, Thurston and Snohomish counties.

• Consider commercial flights at Paine Field. The County Council will review the longtime issue next year after a marketing study is completed.

• Continue working to diversify its economic base with more biotech and nonaerospace manufacturing jobs.

• Reinforce the shrinking agricultural industry, which, he said, has very different needs from typical businesses.

• Ensure a simple permitting and regulatory process so businesses that launch here stay here.

Reardon said that in the long term, though probably not in the next four years, he'd like to push for development of a four-year college in the county.

Economic players on board

Observers of Reardon say he's lining up a competent staff who have played key roles in Snohomish County's recent economic successes, such as winning the 7E7 and ironing out land-use and permitting challenges.

Reardon, a Democrat who served two terms in the state House and a year as a state senator, has retained County Executive Bob Drewel's deputy executive, Gary Weikel, and named Paul Roberts, who served Everett's planning department for 15 years, as executive director. Reardon said he wants Roberts to manage planning for the manufacture of Boeing's 7E7 and lead a county committee to help Naval Station Everett survive scrutiny from the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which will begin a periodic review of bases next year.

Others say they're expecting Reardon to continue where Drewel, who couldn't run for re-election due to term limits, leaves off — most notably, as a county leader who advocates on a regional level for business, transportation and competitiveness.

"The surprise was that even as a Democrat he received endorsements from the builders association," said Sen. Dave Schmidt, R-Bothell.

"(The job of county executive) is to be a cheerleader for business, to encourage processing of permits, to encourage everything from good use of land to opportunities for education," said Deborah Knutson, the president of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council. "Aaron ran on an economic-development platform."

Jane Hodges: 425-745-7813 or


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