When the owners of Kenmore Air told city officials that the Secret Service shuts down their seaplane operation every time the U.S. president visits the area, Kenmore officials listened.
The Kenmore City Council added the information to its federal legislative agenda to see how the city could work with the government to potentially keep the business open during those times.
When several local business owners told Kenmore officials they wanted the city to have freeway signage on Interstate 5 and Interstate 405, the city added that to its state legislative agenda. The city of Kenmore will appear on freeway signage on both interstates, beginning next year.
“What’s important to them is what’s important to us,” Kenmore City Manager Rob Karlinsey told about 40 city officials from across the U.S. who packed the Kenmore Council Chambers on Thursday.
The city representatives came together for the National League of Cities Conference in Seattle to share best practices, before a busload of officials headed to Kenmore City Hall, where Kenmore officials hosted a mobile workshop on how the city is leveraging its assets for economic vitality.
City officials came from approximately 22 states, as far west as California, south as Texas and as far east as Massachusetts.
Karlinsey and Mayor David Baker spoke about the city’s top goals, all related to economic development, and ways to catalyze that development – including listening to the business community.
“I’m really impressed with what they’ve done here with economic development and reaching out to their business community,” Federal Way City Councilwoman Susan Honda told the Reporter following the presentation. “They went out to their business community instead of waiting for their business community to come to them. I’m hoping we can do something like that in Federal Way.”
Kelly Maloney, also a Federal Way City Council member, said Kenmore officials have a “very collaborative spirit. The way that they reach out is really refreshing and it’s something that we’ve wanted for a very long time. Right now, we think Federal Way is in a position to be able to do some of the stuff that Kenmore is doing.”
One of those things Kenmore is doing includes maximizing its unique assets, such as Bastyr University, a globally-respected institution of natural health arts and sciences. The city is working to form a “health sciences innovation zone” in Kenmore, Karlinsey said.
“We want to be known as the epicenter of health science innovation,” he said, noting Assistant City Manger Nancy Ousley has forged several partnerships with Bastyr, service providers and naturopathic doctors. “She’s gotten these people talking to each other where they haven’t been able to get out in the community as much in the past.”
Maloney said that Federal Way city officials are looking to put together a sort of innovation zone much like Kenmore’s, only in a different sector.
Kenmore also “cultivates economic gardening” by helping its businesses to grow.
“We have felt very, very strongly that we want to help our businesses in our city grow,” Baker said. “I mean, it’s easy to go out to a neighboring city and try to steal a business away and offer them all these attractive things and before you know it, you’ve got another city trying to steal your business away from you. So what we wanted to do was take our own existing businesses and do what we can do to help.”
For example, the city recently launched a pilot business incubator program that is currently the headquarters of three tech start-ups, Baker said.
One of those companies is Cookoo Watch company, which was started by former Microsoft employee Peter Hauser, who is making a Bluetooth device for wrist watches that communicates with smartphones, Baker said.
The other two companies include a video game development company, Exato Game Studios, and Synch, which provides mobile inventory and ordering solutions for distributors and manufacturers via a smartphone app. Synch began as a pilot program in Kenya with a nonprofit that quickly distributed one million pounds of food during a humanitarian crisis.
The incubator program provides low-cost office space and business operations assistance to accelerate businesses in the technology, life sciences and other sectors.
During the two-year program, the city will invest about $150,000 into the incubator, Karlinsey said.
“We see it as an investment and we see it as a way to promote the city,” he added. “An incubator has been a great way to send a message, loud and clear, to the greater business community that Kenmore lays out the red carpet to bring in new businesses and the word gets out about us.”
J Davis, mayor pro tem of Greenbelt, Md. said her city is very similar to Kenmore. Greenbelt has a population of 23,000 and also employs a council-manager form of government.
“I’m very impressed with their business economic development plan,” Davis said. “I wrote down a lot of things because we’ve decided that we just can’t wait and have business come to us; we have to really start doing something about it. So, listening to what [Kenmore] has done, we have a slightly different funding mechanism, but the plan is good.”
Davis said she plans to bring the ideas she learned from the mobile workshop back to her own Council.
Other city officials were surprised at Kenmore’s operations.
Gregory Zilka, mayor of Avon Lake, Ohio, noted that the city of Kenmore has a biennial budget of about $49 million and a staff of 29 full-time employees.
“In my city, we have about a $15 million a year budget, which would equate to $30 million for two years. We have 113 employees,” Zilka told the Reporter following the event. He noted that his city’s utilities are handled by a separate board that has its own budget and generates funds through utility rates. “I’m just trying to equate the difference with [a population of] 21,000 people and that size budget, if Kenmore is taking care of all the utilities, that does make sense, but I just can’t believe that they can operate on just 29 people – that’s astounding.”
Zilka said the city of Avon Lake, which has a population of 23,000, employs nearly 60 police and fire personnel, as well as 30 staff members.
“So for 29 people to run that city, that’s just astounding to me,” Zilka added. “And then looking at $49 million for two years but again, they’re including utilities. So it’s apples to oranges. But then they said they paid cash for this very nice building; we don’t pay cash for our buildings but we have a solid financial situation.”
Karlinsey said the city of Kenmore saves money by contracting out its police and fire services.
“We like this contracting model because it keeps our overhead costs down,” said Karlinsey, noting that a recent study showed contracting out for police services saved the city of Kenmore $1 million per year. “I had an in-house police department in my last city and that consumes so much of your time that is now freed up for me here in Kenmore and I get to spend it on other things like economic development.”
He said the trade-off is that the city has to give up some local control with services, however, that “hasn’t been that much of a problem for us.”
During the event, the group ate lunch that was provided by Bastyr University. The officials then went to the university for a campus tour.
Approximately 40 city officials from across the U.S. eat lunch during a presentation at Kenmore City Hall on Thursday.
City officials from approximately 22 states were asked to put a sticker on the state they hail from during an event at Kenmore City Hall on Thursday.
Kenmore Mayor David Baker addresses approximately 40 city officials from across the U.S. during an event at Kenmore City Hall on Thursday.
Kenmore City Manager Rob Karlinsey speaks to a packed Kenmore Council Chambers on Thursday.