ARLINGTON — When Kathleen Shalan and Carlene Braaten decided to relocate the Country Rose in May, after eight years at the Seattle Premium Outlets in Tulalip, they chose to move to downtown Arlington.
When Craig Davis and Conner Cave ran out of room for Vitalire Clothing in April, after their first year in operation on Olympic Avenue, they stayed in town and found new digs in the industrial park just east of the Arlington Airport.
To hear the city of Arlington and the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Arlington Business Association tell it, these two businesses are hardly exceptions to the rule, as the Arlington community has finally begun to recover from the recent economic downturn.
Paul Ellis, director of community and economic development for the city of Arlington, provided historic context by explaining that the city taking over the operations of the Arlington Municipal Airport in 1959 paved the way for manufacturing and industrial businesses to take off over the next few decades, establishing the Arlington area as a manufacturing and industrial center by the 1970s. Like most other locations, however, Arlington’s fortunes were far from immune from the nationwide recession, which slowed local business growth.
“It was a fairly significant decline during the downturn,” Ellis said. “Since then, over the last 18 months, we are really seeing an increase in the industrial and manufacturing businesses once again, and the economy plays a big role. We’ve been able to do some redevelopment, including the closed Brunswick Boat Company plant which sat empty for three years. That’s a significant area, in that it’s 470,000 square feet of building space. The city helped facilitate it, but it was private investment that did the rebuild, and it has given the community more manufacturing property and bigger building sizes.”
Arlington High School Class of 2010 alumni Davis and Cave were tipped off to some open office space just north of the former Brunswick plant by John Peeters, of Penway Printing in Arlington, and they’ve seen a significant change just since this summer.
“When we first came in, there were a lot of vacant units,” said Davis, co-owner of Vitalire Clothing with Cave. “The first couple of months, there were only three other cars in the parking lot. There’s only two or three empty spaces now, though. A lot more people are working here daily. Even the Skookum Brewery, just down the road, has gotten busier by leaps and bounds.”
Numbers from 2012 show that there are 170 employers in the industrial market surrounding the airport, and that roughly 5,400 jobs were generated that year in the industrial and manufacturing areas.
“That makes Arlington the city with the second highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in Snohomish County per capita, second only to Everett, which has the Boeing plant,” Ellis said. “Our average in Arlington is 1.8 jobs per household.”
“We easily could have gone somewhere else,” Davis said. “What kept us in Arlington was that it has the feel of a supportive small town, but with enough commercial opportunities to become a successful business. We’re right close to I-5, and Smokey Point is a great thing for business as well. It’s an extremely well-rounded business community, with a place for everybody.”
“We’ve gained more diversity as we’ve recovered,” said Kristen Granroth, president of the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce. “In addition to the manufacturing and basic services that have been well-represented here for a long time, we now have more florists than ever, indoor soccer and trampoline courts, and even a new hotel that’s being built in Smokey Point.”
Although the industrial and manufacturing businesses are booming in Arlington, Ellis noted that there are other areas of business that need some development.
“Retail has probably been a slower market in Arlington, but we really want to see more retail here,” said Ellis. “We want those businesses to serve the people of Arlington, and we want residents to be able to get the things we need here in town. We support the ‘Buy Local’ program, and want to keep that tax money in the local community. Retail is definitely a priority, and we want to continue to provide an area for industrial businesses and allows people who move here and live here to provide family wage jobs. We want to provide residents with options.”
Shalan and Braaten concede that, when they traded the heavy consumer traffic of the Seattle Premium Outlets for the more leisurely pace of Main Street Arlington, they reduced their volume of customers, but they also significantly cut their expenses and gained what they feel is a more welcoming environment in the process.
“At the Seattle Premium Outlets, we had to work mall hours, until 9 p.m. every night, which required us to hire more employees,” said Shalan, a north Marysville resident who was sold on Arlington by Braaten, a hometown native. “It’s all relative. It’s slower here, but we enjoy it more. It’s a good pace, and it’s growing all the time.”
In 2007, Arlington saw 52 new businesses, a number that dropped by 10 the following year. In 2009, 57 businesses opened and 62 opened the following year.
“We saw a steady gain in new businesses throughout the downturn in the economy,” Ellis said. “We have a total of 873 businesses in the city. Of those, 370 are service related, 194 are retailers, 170 are industrial, 49 are restaurants and 90 are medical.”
“Not only can we control our hours more, but we also have the luxury of getting involved in the community here,” Shalan said. “I love the downtown Arlington community and all of its activities, from the Farmers Market to the Street Fair. I’ve loved the car shows, and I can’t wait for the holidays here. All the businesses on Main Street are really involved with downtown and the community.”
Ellis agreed that Arlington is a great place to open new businesses, and isn’t surprised that business is growing.
“I think the biggest thing that helps foster business here is that the city approaches it as a partnership,” Ellis said. “With new businesses in the community, we work through their business development with them, and help them find an appropriate location. We help them through the whole process to get their facility up and running, and we treat it as a real partnership.”
“Our city’s leadership, from the mayor and the City Council on down to the city staff, have really put their noses to the grindstone to market this city,” Granroth said. “They’ve done their part to drive businesses here, and have really captured the essence of Arlington and Smokey Point.”
“Arlington is also an inviting area for quality of life, which makes it easier for employers to attract the employees that they want,” Ellis said. “To do that, they need nice schools, parks, services available and housing. We have great school systems, with Arlington and Lakewood, and we have colleges in close proximity. Last year, we started some apprenticeship programs in town, so machining industries can send their employees here to get education, and that’s kind of the flavor that people are looking for.”