Staff Profile: Sean Connell

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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What is your favorite thing to do or eat?

As an avid hiker, getting in an extended hike to some of the greatest vistas around —such as Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm, and others in the North Cascades—then dropping by one or more of Skagit County’s microbreweries afterwards.


What can you suggest for someone new or familiar to Skagit County to try?

Take a full day, and ideally more, to drive from Deception Pass in the west to Rainy Pass in the east, in order to take in the incredibly diverse environments and beauty of the county.


What were you doing before you started working for EDASC?

Most recently, I served as Snohomish County’s director of trade and economic development. Prior to that, I worked for many years in Washington, DC and overseas on projects related to U.S. economic and trade relations with Asia, particularly Japan and South Korea.


What drew you to work in economic development?

I grew up in Everett and spent a lot of time in both Skagit County and Seattle. I would look around cities and neighborhoods I spent time in and think about the possibilities for growth and revitalization, and what opportunities the right kind of development could bring. For example, friends and I in Everett would talk about the all the great effects a four-year university could have on the city, which it now has. Later, in graduate school, I took a course examining national and state-level policy approaches to facilitate innovation-driven economic development, which struck a deep chord and really drove my interest in entering the field. In many respects, working in economic development has offered an opportunity to pursue these interests hands on, in a way that hopefully generates real benefits for the community.


How have you seen the county change since you started working for EDASC?

I often camped at Fire Mountain Scout Reservation east of Big Lake, and over the years I watched as new neighborhoods and developments expanded around nearby, and suddenly it didn’t feel as remote as it once did. Also, more people I knew were moving here from Snohomish County, which was getting too crowded and built up for them. Today I’m still surprised by how much traffic there is in Skagit County compared to what it used to be, but Skagit County is fortunate to have preserved its farmland and vistas during the explosive growth of the broader region during the past two decades.


How do you see the county changing in the next ten years?

Even if the economy slows, I anticipate Skagit County will continue to grow steadily, particularly as more people are drawn here for a quality of life that you can’t find so much in the greater Puget Sound region anymore. While managing this population growth, it will be important to consider where industry that will support local, high-skill, family-wage jobs can also continue to grow in Skagit County. These changes present challenges but also important opportunities to manage growth successfully and sustainably.


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

Skagit County is home to some fascinating companies with world-class innovations and technologies, most of which I never knew about until I started working here. When I speak about Skagit County to Seattle audiences and international groups, people always take note when I mention there are four NASA suppliers here.


What are your day-to-day activities?

I manage EDASC’s business and investment attraction activities. For example, when we are contacted by businesses considering locating in Skagit County, I reach out to commercial real estate brokers, municipalities, and ports to identify available sites and collect related workforce and other data. As part of these activities I attend industry trade shows, both domestic and international, to promote Skagit County industries and to identify businesses that may be interested in expanding into our region. Additionally, I manage many of EDASC’s relationships external to Skagit County, including with regional organizations in greater Seattle, the state’s Commerce Department, Congressional and federal government offices, and international government, and businesses.


What successes have you seen in Skagit County?

The clustering of value-added agriculture businesses around Bayview Ridge has caught my attention in my short time here. WSU’s Bread Lab and businesses such as Skagit Valley Malting are really having a catalytic effect in building Skagit County’s profile and attracting both existing businesses and entrepreneurs, including from across and outside the U.S., to our region, particularly related to specialty grains, craft brewing and craft distilling. It’s doing exactly what a successful industry cluster is supposed to do, and it’s exciting to work on projects that hopefully will contribute to its further growth.

Category: Staff Profile

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