America’s Best Communities (ABC) is a three year $10 million competition that aims to increase economic development in small communities. The Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension has provided leadership for the City of Arlington and the Town of Darrington as they progress throughout the competition. Working in partnership with the two municipalities, the Economic Alliance Snohomish County and numerous local partners, the Metro Center has steadily guided the communities in their quest for sustainable economic prosperity.
Rebuilding an Economy
On March 22, 2014, Arlington and Darrington experienced a devastating mudslide that destroyed 49 homes and took 43 lives. It was the most deadly natural landslide in US history. The slide brought additional hardship to an economically challenged region, still struggling to cope with the decline of the timber industry. With encouragement from local, state, and national officials, the mayors of Arlington and Darrington seized an opportunity to combine slide recovery efforts with broader initiatives to improve the long-term economy of the region. With leadership from the Economic Alliance Snohomish County, they assembled a group of cross-sector stakeholders – including Washington State University (WSU) – and obtained a federal grant to create a comprehensive regional Redevelopment Plan.
America's Best Communities Competition
While stakeholders were crafting the Redevelopment Plan, the America’s Best Communities Competition was announced. The multi-year competition, sponsored by Frontier Communications, The Weather Channel, CoBank, and DISH Network, seeks to revitalize smaller communities across the U.S. by emphasizing long-term vision and community engagement. The mayors of Arlington and Darrington saw the ABC competition as a way to help the community move forward after the slide by engaging local residents directly in regional economic development efforts, and – just maybe – win the competition’s $3 million grand prize.
The Contest Begins
The Metro Center was asked to provide project leadership for Arlington and Darrington throughout the ABC competition, beginning with the initial application in March 2015, and concluding in April 2017 with the announcement of the three communities winning the $1, $2, and $3 million prizes. Working with local officials, the Metro Center authored the initial application, painting a picture of a strong resilient community with the vision and regional alliances needed to achieve economic growth and community readiness while preserving a strong sense of place.
The Quarter-Finalist Round
From a field of over 135 communities, Arlington and Darrington were selected as one of the 50 quarter-finalists, awarded $50,000 and given six months to create a comprehensive Community Revitalization Plan (pdf) (CRP). Working directly with community members, local organizations and public officials, the Metro Center helped them create a CRP that aligned directly with the goals and strategies of larger regional economic development plan, but remained firmly rooted in a community based effort. The result was a cohesive vision of prosperity and an entire community rolling up its sleeves.
The Semi-Finalist Round
On the basis of the CRP, Arlington and Darrington advanced to the semi-finalist round (1 of 15). To reach the finalist round, the communities were asked to present their plan to a panel of expert judges at an ABC Summit (advance to 4:23:00) in the form of a 10 minute Shark Tank-like pitch followed by 5 minutes of Q&A. The Metro Center wrote the pitch which was delivered in April 2016 by the Special Assistant to the President of WSU, Bob Drewel, Arlington’s Mayor Barb Tolbert, and Darrington’s Mayor Dan Rankin. They received a standing ovation and advanced yet again – now one of the 8 finalist communities.
The Finalist Stage
In April 2017, the America’s Best Communities grand prize winners were announced, however unfortunately Arlington and Darrington were not among the winners. Competing in the America’s Best Communities Competition assisted Arlington and Darrington in building stronger communities and successfully attaining sustainable economic prosperity. Mayor Barb Tolbert and the communities will continue to work together in order to implement the CRP initiatives.
The Metro Center’s efforts have been part of WSU’s larger commitment to the community’s long term well-being. Originating with WSU Snohomish County Extension, and intensifying in the immediate aftermath of the slide with the late WSU President Ellson Floyd’s declaration of support for the community, WSU remains an enduring presence. With ABC, the Metro Center was able to coalesce many of these efforts within a single project, and engage a broad spectrum of WSU expertise:
- Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension: Martha Aitken (ABC Project Director), Brad Gaolach (Metro Center Director), Anthony Gromko
- WSU Snohomish County Extension: Curt Moulton, Jana Ferris, Chrys Bertolotto, Oak Rankin, Judy Pendergrass
- WSU Division of Governmental Studies and Services: Mike Gaffney, Christina Sanders, Monica Babine
- WSU Extension Community & Economic Development Unit: Jordan Tampien
- WSU Special Assistant to the President, Bob Drewel
- WSU Economic Development: Alexis Holzer
- WSU Summer Interns: Justin Surber and Josh Robinson
The Metro Center
Versatility and Breadth
The America’s Best Communities project illustrates how the Metro Center applies its versatility, breadth of experience and its ability to bring expertise from across WSU to enhance a project. Situation assessment, community development, project management, communication, evaluation, grantsmanship, and capacity building are all skills that have been utilized by the Metro Center during various stages of the project.
The Metro Center utilized additional WSU expertise in economic development, youth development, broadband communication, entrepreneurship, emergency management, and curriculum development to assist with specific project strategies. Most importantly, the Metro Center, has built the capacity within the community to manage and implement a sustainable economic development strategy that includes innovative approaches to community and economic development, and sets up the community to obtain and leverage funding for future initiatives.
Making a Difference
- Engaged the community directly in economic development, in projects that resonate most for community members.
- Increased community capacity to manage economic development projects.
- Supported the implementation of innovative approaches to community and economic development with projects such as Rural Tourism Studios and Glacier Peak Institute.
- Linked community based projects to broader economic development efforts to insure sustainability and create opportunities to leverage additional funding to complete them.
- Is working with WSU partners to create a rigorous community-based evaluation designed to help inform future decision making.
Arlington/Darrington Pitch at the ABC Summit (advance to 04:23:00)
In the Media:
Stilly Valley already a winner (Everett Herald)
After landslide, communities rewarded for resilience efforts (WSU News)