Smith wants to bring Whitman County togetherI know Harm and Jan personally. Harm is a good man and I like him a lot. He is a serious candidate and has obviously run an excellent campaign thus far, with tons of signs, mailers, ads. etc.
Harmon Smith sees Whitman County’s communities as little islands, and he wants to bring them together.
Smith is running for Whitman County commissioner District 3.
Many of Whitman County’s towns face the same challenges, but each might have a different solution. Smith said leaders must get together and talk face-to-face.
“It would be free and we would probably learn a lot,” he said.
Smith said bringing communities together to find out what’s actually going on outside each’s own region would create momentum.
Smith wants to use that momentum to expand jobs and services in rural areas.
He said each area of the county has a different attribute. He can’t grow canola on his farm outside LaCrosse like farmers can around Pullman or Colton, but drought-resistant wheat might be able to be grown by farmers in his area.
“I’m very proud of the area’s heritage,” Smith said. “But the small-farm families are going away, and I would love to see them strong again.”
Smith also wants to expand the area’s economic base. He said agriculture can’t be the main economic engine it used to be, and the county’s towns have to diversify.
He said Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is always searching for new employees. Smith wants to encourage SEL to build a satellite facility in Colfax so people farther out in the county have the chance to work for the company.
He said the outlying areas have affordable housing available, and decentralizing the job base would disperse people throughout the county, instead of having the population stack up in Pullman.
He said each community would benefit from as few as 10 to 15 new jobs.
“We need some new families out in places like LaCrosse,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge new industry in each town.”
He said housing and economic development revolve around one another, and with time, everything falls into place.
Smith first became involved in government as a LaCrosse school board member nine years ago.
He said he learned how to be a good communicator and a good listener during that time. He said he goes to the community coffee shops and listens to people’s concerns, so he isn’t blindsided by the public when an issue arises. He said he can evaluate a situation and work with diverse ideals to come up with a solution people can use.
“We have a great county and we need to promote it,” he said. “We have reasonable costs, great living and excellent schools. People need to know it.”
* NAME: Harmon Smith
* RUNNING FOR: Whitman County commissioner District 3
* PARTY: Republican
* PERSONAL: Married to wife, Janice, for 31 years with one daughter.
* OCCUPATION: Farmer
* ACTIVITIES: LaCrosse School Board director and state legislative representative for Small Schools Task Force, Whitman County Republican Party Executive Board.
Where Harm and I disagree is in his approach to distributing growth and decentralizing jobs throughout the county. I see, and I think the current commissioners see, Pullman as the economic engine that is driving the county. As Pullman grows, the rest of Whitman County will benefit. Pullman has the largest labor force, most developed infrastructure, shopping (such as it may be), one of the top school systems in the state, entertainment opportunities, etc.
Sure, housing might be more affordable outside Pullman, but how much is available and is it what people are looking for? Both the county's current and proposed rural housing ordinance would preclude any kind of new, large scale housing developments in the county. And with gas prices being what they are, people want to live close to where they work.
Internet, wireless, and cellular phone access is not as readily available in the smaller towns, and those are things that are important to modern businesses.
As much as possible, we need to help the smaller towns in Whitman County grow and develop, but never lose sight of the importance of Pullman.
I also don't sense any great urgency in Harm about the serious retail leakage and housing affordability crisis we are experiencing in Whitman County. I think any candidate taking Commisioner Les Wigen's place needs that.