TwispWorks leads the discussion on what makes a healthy local and regional economy. We participate in a host of forums focused on the economic health of our communities including North Central Washington Economic Development District, the Economic Alliance, the Okanogan County Tourism Council, and the Winthrop and Twisp Chambers of Commerce.
In addition to these forums, we partner with other community organizations such as Room One, Little Star School, Methow Valley School District, Methow Valley Citizen’s Council, Methow Housing Trust, and the Housing Solutions Network on a variety of advocacy projects from childcare and housing initiatives to climate change and access to broadband. We believe that creating a thriving community involves partnership and teamwork! To that end, we are currently involved in three advocacy projects including broadband, climate action, and housing solutions.
TwispWorks Comprehensive Economic Study of the Methow Valley
In 2020, TwispWorks commissioned a comprehensive economic study to better understand the structural changes occurring in the Methow Valley. Throughout 2020 and 2021 we launched four surveys, held Community Listening Sessions, and gathered data on tourism, part-time homeowners and remote workers. After hearing from over 1,000 residents, we are thrilled to announce that the study is complete. Thank you to everyone who participated in the surveys and listening sessions! We are proud to be part of this community!
In conjunction with its core mission to support and enhance economic vitality in the Methow Valley, Twisp Works has completed an 18-month economic study that provides an in-depth understanding of the Methow Valley’s economy. The study addresses questions relating to tourism, vacation homes, residential building and other major industries, as well as economic disparity and resident attitudes on change and the future. Specific questions the study addresses include:
- How much revenue does tourism generate through visitor and part-time resident spending?
- How is this income distributed in terms of jobs, wages, and multiplier effects? What are the social costs of tourism and recreation?
Tourism not only draws visitors, but here-and-there residents. Amenity migration, or the in-migration of people in search of lifestyle and recreation, also factors into our economy. Forty-one percent of the homes in the Methow are vacation and part-time residences. The study answers questions such as:
- How do second homeowners influence our economy in terms of spending, gifting, social capital, volunteerism, and income from outside the Valley?
- Other than tourism what are the main drivers of our economy and how do they contribute in terms of gross revenue and jobs created?
- How has the growth in second homes and nightly rentals impacted long-term housing?
- How do commercial, small business, and nonprofits factor into the local economy?
While similar studies have been done (Room One Methow Valley Community Needs Assessment 2012, Methow Valley Long-term Recovery, Our Economy: getting by and getting paid in the Methow Valley 2016), there has been no single economic impact study that addresses all these factors.
Summary of Key Findings
- Over a thousand homes were built in the Methow watershed between 2005 and 2020, the majority of which lay outside incorporated towns.
- Today, there are 2,650 full-time residential homes and 1,966 part-time homes, with an estimated population of 6,400 full-time residents and 4,380 part-time residents. This growth has been fueled primarily by amenity migration, particularly during Covid-19.
- Today, the Methow’s population is characterized by retirees, remote workers and long-time residents. Nearly 40 percent of the population is over 60 years old, with 20 percent under 18. Altogether, 60 percent of the population is not of working age. These demographics contribute to a shortage of workers and shrinking labor force.
- The median household income for families who live and work in the Methow Valley is $57,779, with nearly 60 percent of working families making less than $55,000 a year.
- The overall demographic trends in the Methow Valley suggest that not only is the population aging as more retirees move to the Methow, but also that poverty is increasing among families with children and among working families in general. Working families face limited mobility and service wage jobs that have not kept pace with the rising cost of homes and property. In other words, wealth is concentrated in the incoming residents, while long term residents and local families face increasing economic disparity.
- Today, nearly 30 percent of the jobs in the Methow lie in retail or recreation services, with another 16 percent in health care and education. Trade industries, including carpentry and construction make up nine percent of total employment, with self-employed people and small businesses comprising another 20 percent.
- Living on service wages is difficult. Employees must choose between unskilled jobs with little upward mobility or becoming entrepreneurs themselves. Furthermore, they struggle to find affordable housing, childcare, and benefits in a tourist-oriented economy. These issues lead to an exodus of talented local youth who must find professional jobs and opportunities elsewhere, and a concurrent influx of educated professionals and remote workers who fill board memberships and the top few professional positions in the Methow Valley. This kind of rural restructuring is common in recreational areas, and likely to deepen in the future.
- This study found that roughly 476,746 visitors spend the night in the Methow Valley each year. Using the Dean Runyan average of $117/day in visitor spending, we estimate that tourism brings $55.7 million in gross revenue.
- This translates to roughly 450 tourist-related or service jobs in the Methow Valley. Using a 1.25 multiplier for the additional revenue generated by these jobs, we estimate an additional $13.9 million of spending in the local economy, adding up to a total of $69.7 million, or 25 percent of the total economy.
Housing and amenity migration
- Responses to data collection suggest that 19 percent of the population are fully remote workers, and another 11 percent are supported by a spouse or partner who works remotely. All told, 31 percent of the Methow’s population derive at least part of their income from outside the Methow.
- Part-time retirees reported spending an average of 128 days per year in the Methow Valley and $83 per day, while remote workers spend 92 days per year and $109 per day. Total part-time spending based on these averages equals $20.3 million per year. Using a 1.25 multiplier, we estimate the gross product for part-time spending is around $25.37 million per year, or around nine percent of the gross revenue generated in the Methow Valley.
- The majority of remote workers made between $200,000-$250,000 per year, with a median wage of $202,000. This is five times the income earnings of the average household in the Methow Valley.
- The impact of remote workers moving to the Methow, particularly during Covid-19 has had a direct impact on the housing crises. Real estate sales rose 54 percent between 2019 and 2020, and the average price of a home increased $105,000 between 2018 and 2020. Today, the median list price of a home in the Methow Valley is $499,000, up 14.7 percent from 2020.
- As an industry related to part-time residents, residential building is by far the largest industry in the Methow Valley, comprising roughly $113 million on average and $145 million in 2020. This is over twice the revenue generated by tourism, and is the primary economic generator in the Methow Valley.
- Based on TwispWork’s outreach during Covid-19 as well as responses on the SBEG, we estimate there are 525 businesses in the Methow Valley, with 991 employees. This equals a total of around 1,500 residents who are supported by small business.
- Methow Valley businesses are very small. Forty-four percent of businesses reported having no employees, and 19 percent employed one to three employees. Only 14 percent claimed to have four to 10 employees, and six percent had more than 10.
- Although the data is skewed towards businesses particularly impacted during Covid-19, a full 47 percent of businesses made less than $25,000/year, and the median annual income for a business was $40,404.
- Small business owners cited that beyond finding and retaining quality employees, their primary obstacles to running a business in the Methow was the seasonality of tourism and fire events that impact tourism. Reliable Internet or Broadband was cited as an issue of importance.
Quality of life
- Social integration and a sense of wellbeing are indicators of a successful, healthy economy. Employees came in behind employers when asked to rate their social integration and wellbeing. Only eight percent of employees gave their social integration a high score, versus 33 percent of employers, and only 21 percent of employees gave their sense of wellbeing a high score, versus 33 percent of employers.
- While many residents feel welcome and participate in the community, 30 percent of respondents expressed that they were unable to be involved in the community to the extent they desired because of lack of time and socioeconomic status.
- Resident attitudes differed on environmental versus social issues. Local residents were more concerned about overpopulation, gentrification and the disappearance of agricultural lands, while retirees and remote workers were more concerned about climate change and forest fires, and local residents were more concerned about all social issues than either retirees or remote workers. For example, 18 percent of local residents were very concerned with increasing poverty, compared to only five percent of remote workers, and 22 percent of local residents rated affordable housing as very concerning, compared to eight percent of remote workers. However, all residents rated social issues as less concerning than environmental ones.
- The wellbeing index and quality of life measurements suggest that those with less financial and social capital feel less engaged or welcome in the community than those with higher means. Whether for reasons having to do with socio-economic class, time, political orientation, or residency status, feelings of social alienation are an undercurrent to the dominant narrative that everyone loves the Methow and that there are many ways to be involved.
Future of the Methow
- Overall, residents’ comments on their thoughts and concerns for the future of the Valley illustrate a clear consensus on the negative impacts of more people moving into the Valley and what it might become.
- 1,053 qualitative comments were analyzed and five themes emerged including gentrification, overcrowding, climate change, ‘looks great,’and ‘culture wars.’
- By and large, gentrification arose as the biggest issue, with 38-48 percent of the comments in this category. Gentrification comments had to do with the rising cost of homes, increasing economic disparity, the sense that the Methow is becoming like Jackson Hole or Aspen, and differences between urban and rural residents.
Five Areas of Action
In light of the structural changes occurring in the Methow Valley, five general areas of action are recommended. While many groups are already working on these issues, solutions must take a multifaceted approach and will include a variety of stakeholders and organizations.
- Affordable housing
Multiple steps can be taken to mitigate the housing crises. A few options include reallocating LTAC funds to fund affordable housing projects, imposing deed restrictions on home sales for local or working residents, private equity financing through the Methow Investment Network, construction of affordable housing units and multiple dwelling residential homes.
- Aging population and local youth
While our population is aging rapidly, we lack the medical facilities and services to support it. In addition to encouraging in-home health care workers and an expanded assisted living facility, the Methow needs more support services like yard and home maintenance, rideshares, and other services that allow elders to live at home longer. The construction of accessory dwelling units and multiple family housing could further alleviate our housing crises, the ability for young people to live in the Methow, and allowing elders to live with families. Additionally, a remote learning or educational center would allow local youth to gain job training or degrees while remaining in the Methow Valley.
- Affordable childcare
Quality, affordable childcare is in high demand in the Methow. Private equity investment in two or three in-home daycare centers would alleviate the demand for childcare and help families maintain jobs or educational opportunities.
- Alternatives to building, investing deeper in tourism
While residential construction and real estate sales comprises the bulk of the Methow Valley’s economy, building and water resources to go with it are finite. Looking ahead, we need to find alternatives to residential building such as investing in agricultural tourism and value added products created locally. While most residents were concerned about population growth and feel we are already maxed out with the number of tourists we have, retaining more income from existing tourists would maximize profits while preserving agricultural land around the watershed. Following the examples cited in this study, the Methow Valley needs more infrastructure around agricultural tourism including viticulture and winetasting, farm-to-the table enterprises and manufacturing products that can be produced locally.
- Address differences between new, part-time residents and locals
As we have seen, marked difference in attitudes exists between residents and an undercurrent of tension between the haves and the have-nots. Local organizations can play their part to educate incoming residents (and visitors) on ethical building practices, ethical travel practices, and how to become part of the community, rather than changing it. While various organizations have taken action in the past, a renewed commitment to educating our population on the socioeconomic diversity that exists, the problems of housing, childcare, livable wages, and the differences in attitudes between people could enrich the resident experience and bring light to existing socioeconomic divides.
Climate Action Plan
From 2020 – 2021, TwispWorks was part of a Climate Task Force that worked with the Methow Valley Citizen’s Council, hundreds of Methow residents, science experts, and representatives of local governments, tribes, community organizations, public agencies, and businesses to create a Climate Action Plan for the Methow Valley.
Within the Climate Task Force, we were also part of a smaller focus group dedicated to ensuring best visitor and business practices for sustainable tourism and climate-friendly tips. Check out our Friendly Visitor Brochure.
The collaborative effort to create a Climate Action Plan formed into Resilient Methow, a community driven initiative multi-solving for equity and climate solutions and for the well-being of future generations in the Methow Valley. TwispWorks Executive Director Sarah Brown currently serves as a co-lead strategic advisor to Resilient Methow.
Methow Valley Community Broadband Report Summary
Overview: The Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) completed a Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) sponsored broadband plan and submitted their final report to the CERB Board on March 15, 2021. In addition to a $50,000 CERB grant, matching funds totaling $16,667 were provided by Okanogan County and the Twisp PDA to complete the study. TwispWorks was contracted by the PDA in 2019 to facilitate the Methow Valley Broadband Action Team (BAT) and to direct the study which provides a detailed description of current services available, establishes a community vision for broadband and provides a roadmap for future broadband infrastructure development. Tilson Technologies was hired to conduct the study and summaries of the four reports provided by Tilson can be found below. A complete copy of the report is available by emailing a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summary and Findings: Throughout this study, which spanned from January 2020 to March 2021, the Methow Valley BAT focused specifically on the area within the Methow Valley School District boundaries and chose to create a plan for a fiber to premise solution. Partnering with local utilities, ISPs, anchor institutions, organizations and residents in the Methow Valley, more than six hundred people participated in various aspects of the study. The need for enhanced broadband infrastructure in the Methow Valley to ensure public safety and enable remote work, learning and medicine was widely affirmed along with the desire to preserve the pristine environment and unique culture of our community. In the end, Okanogan County Electric Cooperative determined that broadband infrastructure development is outside of their scope and ability to scale. The Okanogan County PUD confirmed they are currently unable to develop infrastructure outside their electric service territory.
While funding for infrastructure is becoming increasingly available, a significant challenge is the absence of a qualified applicant for the funding. The Methow Valley BAT will continue to convene to identify qualifying projects within the Okanogan PUD service territory (which may extend beyond the original target area for the BAT study) as well as identify eligible applicants for expanded fiber to premise development. Local internet service providers have also expressed interest in partnering in future fiber and wireless infrastructure developments. This, combined with the rapid pace of development of satellite solutions, points to feasibility for enhancing broadband service in the Methow Valley. From the outset, we understood that this was going to be a long process with multiple solutions. Raising awareness of the need in the Methow Valley and providing a roadmap for future possible infrastructure development is a welcome step in the right direction on this road!
Feedback provided as a result of our collaborative work with the Okanogan County/Colville Confederated Tribe’s BAT efforts also resulted in the correction of inaccurate Form 477 filings, clearing a major hurdle and making our region eligible for future Federal funding opportunities. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the agency responsible for defining broadband. The metric they set forms the basis of determining whether the government can say that a household has access to broadband Internet. Today, that metric is 25 megabits per second download (25 Mbps) and three megabits per second (3 Mbps) upload. The incorrect reporting suggested households were served at 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload. You can check your internet speed by taking the Washington State Broadband Office’s speed test.
Next Steps: Responding to the call for applications in Fall 2020, the Twisp PDA and Tilson Technologies worked with the Okanogan County PUD to apply for funding through the WA State Broadband Office. Although we ranked very high, the program was severely over-subscribed with over $80M in requests for $9M in grants and we were not funded for this project. In March 2021, we provided a list of ‘shovel ready’ projects, including the Carlton area and Lost River Road near Mazama, to the Washington State Broadband Office to be included for consideration with new funding available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). We are also awaiting a decision on a funding request submitted to the EDA to help fund ongoing convening of the Methow Valley BAT and to hire grant writing resources to continue applying for infrastructure funding opportunities as they emerge. Stay tuned and keep in touch!
- Methow Valley Business Models, Technical Model & Action Plan Milestones
- Infrastructure, Design, Cost Estimate, Market Analysis & Funding Strategies
- Broadband Availability, Gap Analysis, & Demand Assessment
- Telecommunications Infrastructure Report
In January 2020, Tilson Technologies, a telecommunication company based in Maine, was contracted by the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) to conduct a Broadband Planning study for the Methow Valley. This study was funded through a state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant, with matching funds from the Twisp PDA and Okanogan County, to assess internet service in the Methow Valley.
In February TwispWorks facilitated a series of meetings between Tilson, the Broadband Action Team (BAT) and Advisory Council, local stakeholders and community members. These meetings were designed to help inform Tilson’s first milestone of community engagement and visioning, policy review and providing an inventory of existing and developing broadband infrastructure. This detailed report will be coming soon, so check back often! You can read the Methow Valley News’ excellent coverage of the meetings below.
The Washington State Department of Commerce’s Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) has awarded the Twisp PDA a $50,000 grant for the Methow Valley Broadband Action Team (BAT) to identify areas in the Methow Valley that lack reliable broadband service.
According to the most recent statistics from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 25 million Americans do not have access to a broadband-speed connection to the Internet. The vast majority—more than 19 million people—live in rural areas. This means nearly 31% of rural residents in the United States are unable to take advantage of digital services and capabilities that are an everyday part of life for many urban residents. This gap, known as the “digital divide” means rural areas like the Methow Valley are at a disadvantage when looking at the global market place and access to information and residents have fewer opportunities to access services like telemedicine and online learning.
In 2018, TwispWorks convened a Broadband Action Team (BAT) made up of local government and community members who recognized the lack of reliable broadband in some areas of the Methow Valley were impacting the economic health and well-being of the community. Community input in the process has been part of each step, including community meetings and an online survey where hundreds of Methow Valley residents and businesses provided input on their broadband needs. The BAT has also worked with infrastructure providers including Okanogan County Electric Coop (OCEC), Okanogan County PUD and internet service providers.
CERB funding for the project consists of a planning study to develop a community broadband plan to identify the technical requirements to bring improved and expanded broadband to underserved communities in the Methow Valley. To secure the $50,000 planning grant, CERB required a grant match of $16,667 which has been secured from Okanogan County and the Twisp PDA, each providing 50% of the match. In addition to leading the work of the BAT, TwispWorks wrote the grant and will lead the oversight of the study, while the Twisp PDA will administer the grant award. Once the technical requirements are understood, the BAT will look at funding for the technical implementation to bring services to areas lacking reliable broadband.
Methow Valley Broadband Position Paper (2019) authored by TwispWorks
Broadband Access in the Methow Valley
As a rural, mountainous, and remote community, the Methow Valley has limitations to broadband access. Not all residences have access to broadband, service provision is not consistent and the infrastructure to support broadband is not in place in all areas. However, because of technological innovation, a change in the political climate advocating greater broadband access in rural areas, incentives to broadband providers to expand their coverage and an interest from key stakeholders in our local community, we believe now is an opportune time to work to improve broadband access in the Methow Valley.
FEBRUARY 2019 UPDATE
In the United States, 312 million people, or 92% of the population have access to broadband Internet. According the most recent statistics from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 25 million Americans do not have access to a broadband-speed connection to the Internet. The vast majority—more than 19 million people—live in rural areas. That means almost one third of the rural US population does not have access to broadband. This lack of access can put unnecessary constraints on education, health care, public safety, business and many other critical services we rely on for a healthy community and economy. Many Methow Valley residents report being cut off by a total lack of service or inadequate bandwidth, unable to take advantage of digital services and capabilities that are an everyday part of life for many urban residents.
Over the past year, TwispWorks and the local Broadband Action Team have been exploring this challenge in the Methow Valley. A recently completed study (you can read the full study below) conducted with Partners for Rural Washington began a deeper exploration of the issue. Recognizing this challenge is not unique to the Methow, recent meetings with Perry Houston, Okanogan County Planner, the Okanogan County Commissioners and Ernie Rasmussen representing the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) helped us focus on this common challenge in our county. Our next step is to apply for Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) planning grants to further evaluate our current service area map and establish a plan for underserved areas. TwispWorks, through a contract with the Twisp Public Development Authority, will submit the grant application on May 28. The CCT, led by Ernie Rasmussen and Okanogan County, with help from Roni Holder-Diefenbach, Executive Director of the Economic Alliance, will make separate applications that address the unique geographical and community needs across our vast county. Ernie, Roni and Don will continue to meet throughout the project to ensure an integrated county-wide solution.
AUGUST 2018 UPDATE
Because reliable, high speed internet plays such a vital role in the economic health of our valley, TwispWorks has identified rural broadband internet as a top priority advocacy issue and has been working to improve access for all residents. In the Spring of 2018, TwispWorks began leading the discussion convening meetings between our local internet service providers, governments and interested citizens.
The Partners for Rural Washington (PRW), through a grant from Communities of Concern, has teamed with TwispWorks, Okanogan County and the town of Twisp to perform a valley-wide, rural broadband internet needs assessment.
Using information gathered through community input in the form of a survey conducted in late summer 2018, PRW will provide a written report outlining the possible next steps (and cost estimates) for enhancing broadband service in our rural community. This grant funded work is being done at no cost to the towns or county and you can read the Memorandum of Understanding between the Partners for Rural Washington and Okanogan County and Twisp at the end of this article.
Over 13% of Methow Valley residents work remotely and rely on the internet to earn their livelihood. Every day, valley businesses rely on the internet for marketing and financial transactions. Students rely on the internet to complete assignments and parents actively monitor their progress through the internet. Here in the Methow Valley, we are fortunate to have great, local internet service providers who are committed to quality and customer service. But it’s no secret that some valley residents either do not have the service that they require or are unaware of how to get the service that they want. With input from area experts, elected officials and community members, we’ve created this roadmap to help achieve this ambitious goal:
- Assemble a team to develop a community broadband vision;
- Facilitate a planning process to understand community broadband needs;
- Perform a valley-wide needs assessment and identify gaps in service;
- Evaluate and chose appropriate technology and service options;
- Create a broadband plan;
- Implement a community led plan;
- Identify funding opportunities;
- Complete identified infrastructure improvements as necessary.