PRCAC discusses agenda, helping local businesses

By Meg Olson

Jeff Christopher took over as chair of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) this month with an aggressive agenda to help the local economy.

At the March 13 meeting, Christopher led with a series of motions, two designed to bring business assistance to the Point.

“I got a real eye-opener in this room,” Christopher said in reference to a February 14, 2017 meeting he has referred to as the “Saint Valentine’s Day massacre” during which numerous complaints about the character plan and regulatory hindrance to economic development were brought forward. “People were angry and those that were angriest were business people who felt PRCAC was a hindrance. We want to be part of your solution, not part of your problem.”

Committee members unanimously endorsed Christopher’s proposal to work with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Bellingham to resume a business mentorship program on the Point that would connect local businesses with technical support and access to financing. “They are keen to launch an outreach program and are sold on coming to the Point,” Christopher said, also volunteering to take the lead on the project.

The SBDC is a cooperative effort of the Washington State University, Western Washington University and the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2007 and again in 2012, the SBDC met with clients on the Point in space donated by then-Sterling Bank to provide free assistance with financing, business plan development, recordkeeping, international trade planning, financial analysis, valuing a business, marketing and other business issues.

Christopher also proposed to take the lead in getting the Point added to the national list of Empowerment Zones, a more ambitious goal, and again got unanimous support from his colleagues.

The federal government established Empowerment Zones in 1993 to lift economically distressed communities out of poverty by providing them with access to government benefits including tax credits for employers and access to grant and bonds. The program has expired and been reauthorized numerous times, most recently in February when President Donald Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The act allows existing zones to collect tax credits retroactively until the end of 2017. Legislation proposed mid-2017 to extend the program into the future did not pass but proponents of the program expect it to be reintroduced.

“Point Roberts should shake the tree at the county, the state and the federal level for cash which is being pried out of this community with nebulous benefits,” Christopher said.

In later comments Christopher said he was pursuing several other avenues to get economic development assistance for the Point, from meeting with state department of commerce staff to the Port of Bellingham. “I’m just going to bang on a lot of doors and see what happens,” he said

Christopher also offered a motion to take the lead in working with Verizon Wireless to address the “grossly inadequate and potentially dangerous lack of cell phone service in Point Roberts,” which also received unanimous support.

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