Staff Profile: Audra Ramerman

Thursday, November 30, 2017

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I think that the most important thing in my choice to come to EDASC from the private sector was that I see this as an opportunity to make a difference in my local community. During the last election there was a lot of talk about ‘we need jobs here! We need employment!’ and I feel that whatever is happening at the federal level, I don’t think it’s the President’s or Congress’ duty to bring jobs to my community. I feel that local politics and local organizations are what is going to effect change in their local communities. And coming to EDASC was an opportunity to engage in those activities and personally make a difference, rather than sit back and wait for someone to come in and do something for us.

How long have you been in Skagit County?

Over 20 years. I moved to Skagit County in 1996, shortly after my husband graduated from Skagit Valley College. He was working at Skagit Gardens, I took a job in Everett, and we have been living in the county ever since then. We bought our house in 2001. I grew up in the Seattle-area and after going to Western, I really wanted to stay up north. For me, Skagit County provided me access to good employment in the area as well as access to the lifestyle that I enjoy with the outdoors: close to Mt. Baker; close to the water; close to great hiking. My husband and I really enjoy the outdoors, and he likes going hunting. On the weekends we’ll head up to Lily and Lizard, and he’ll take his fishing pole and the dog, and we’ll have a nice Saturday afternoon. We’ve really made Skagit County our home.

What is your favorite thing to do or eat in Skagit County?

Dungeness crab that I’ve caught myself! I love being out on the water. I like the catching and the eating.

If someone is new to the county, what can you suggest that they try?

I like to say we have a sampler plate here in Skagit County. There are so many things that you can do that you don’t have to be full-commitment. You can enjoy a nice walk in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, or a small hike in the Chuckanut Mountains. You get that sense of Pacific Northwest woods and outdoors. We also have a great social atmosphere, where you can hang out with friends at our, I-don’t-know-how-many, (11!) breweries. And you can do all of these things in one day! You can go for a hike and you can have great coffee or a beer afterwards with your friends and family. I feel like that is a very fun way to spend an afternoon.

For you, why is economic development important for the county?

I feel that economic development is important to the county because I think it contributes to having an environment where people have a good quality of life, meaning that we can afford to live in comfortable homes, that we can afford a middle-class lifestyle, which has some disposable income for recreation, for eating out, setting aside for retirement, and protecting the open space. One of the reasons I came to EDASC is, having worked in the Arlington area, I have seen what happened to Smokey Point. I just do not want to see that kind of unplanned growth happen at the expense of what makes Washington State so great. We, in the Western half of the U.S., have been resource managers, with our agriculture, with our logging, with the mining, and I really would like to protect that heritage, while finding a way to have sustainable economic growth. Having worked in manufacturing for the last 20+ years, I have seen firsthand the challenges of profitability, what that does to manufacturing work staff, and the stagnation of wages. I would like to find ways to change the paradigm, that would allow us to bring jobs that pay better than the legal minimum wage.

How have you seen the county change since you first started living here?

In the time that I have been living here, the traffic has gotten outrageous! Jokes aside, I mean that more people are living here than our roads were designed to handle. A lot of people have joined our community and they need a place to live, so I’ve seen a lot of houses being built in the last 20 years. We used to have fields across the street and at our back fence, and now we have lovely neighbors. I’ve seen the services that come to support that population growth, the growth of the mall and, you know, the Costco going in as well as the Walmart. I’ve seen the growth of retail along with the housing growth, but I haven’t seen the infrastructure grow to support our new neighbors. Things like roads, electronic infrastructure – access to cable – and access to water are important for new residents and businesses. You know, I’m on the end of the water line, and we haven’t expanded the water out beyond where I’ve lived.

How do you see the county changing in the near future?

I’d like to see EDASC bringing together the community leaders to address some of those infrastructure challenges, particularly regarding housing, that affect not just individuals coming to live here, but also the ability of businesses to settle here as well. Businesses need transportation and core facilities. I’d like to see a diversification of our workforce to include more sustainable, living-wage jobs and what that looks like I don’t know yet. Is that tech? Is that advanced manufacturing? Is that value-added agriculture? Is that tourism? Increasing diversity will help make the local economy more resilient during economic cycles. I followed cycles when I was in the boating industry, and that industry was very cyclical. During the next economic downturn, you’re going to lose a lot of the business you’ve built up. We become more resilient as a community by bringing different types of employers from different industries here to Skagit County.

What do you do for EDASC and how do you impact the community?

For EDASC and EDASC Foundation, as the director of finance and administration, I make sure that we have sound financials to be able to continue with the mission work, to continue with the economic development in the county. You know, that’s making sure that we have talented staff, that we have the cash reserves in order to continue, and the funding to make sure that we can do our program related work. That’s the nuts and bolts of what I do at EDASC.

What I do more broadly within the community, and this is something I’m working to expand, is I volunteer with Community Action of Skagit County. Right now I’m race director for the Have a Heart run fundraiser. I have worked on that race to realign and focus so that we utilize the volunteer resources wisely. I took it from 100 volunteers to almost 25. I’m working to increase revenues and attendance, so that this becomes a strong contributor both to the community as well as to Community Action. I’m working to expand my volunteering support to do some financial counseling of some kind, which utilizes what I do at EDASC in a volunteer capacity at another nonprofit.

What have you learned about EDASC and the county that has surprised you?

One of the things I was most surprised about EDASC and their relationship in the county is that we are active in promoting things which didn’t seem to be part of economic development to me before I started working here, things like the education, you know, STEM and early learning, as well as housing. Those were two areas that I hadn’t realized EDASC would be participating in, although I knew that they were issues the county has been facing. Working in manufacturing, I hadn’t thought about those two items in relation to economic development. But I do know that I’ve worked in organizations where we’ve had challenges to hire people, find local people, meaning that there just isn’t a very large pool of people to pull from in Skagit County. At my last organization they talked about expanding and ramping up and I said that people may have to commute in 45 minutes if you want to bring in talented engineers, from around the region. You have to attract them. I didn’t know that EDASC wanted to help facilitate and make aware the changes needed so we can help grow the local workforce, as well as offer the housing options in order to simply have them be closer.

Have you seen any successes in Skagit County related to what EDASC has been doing?

Although I’m still too new at the organization to be able to say that I’ve seen any huge successes, I’m optimistic we will continue to have conversations, bring people together, and raise awareness about the issues. We can help the college develop programs that are relevant, and work with Viva Farms so they can create programs that are relevant to the county’s needs. It’s a difficult connection to make sometimes, because I think that EDASC can’t and shouldn’t be doing things alone, so we’re facilitating, providing resources, and encouraging and supporting organizations that provide the training or policies that affect these issues. 

Category: Staff Profile