Millions of dollars of Humboldt County’s Headwaters Fund have been spent on community projects but because of loan repayments and interest, the fund’s total amount has grown.
Outgoing Headwaters Fund Board Chairman Patrick Cleary told the county’s Board of Supervisors at its Feb. 23 meeting that when the fund was established in 2002, it totaled $18.4 million. Now it stands at $20.7 million.
Cleary’s highlighting of the fund’s growth was part of his board’s annual report to the county. He said the fund has been a well-managed supporter of economic activity, with $11 million spent for community projects and business assistance. Over $1 million was spent from the fund’s Revolving Loan Fund in the year ending June 30, 2009, which he said helped 10 businesses retain 26 jobs and create 66 new ones.
The Headwaters Grant Fund supports infrastructure projects and assists businesses. Several grant awards went to programs carried out by Humboldt State University (HSU), which Cleary called “the biggest business asset we have.”
The grants included $39,000 to HSU’s Schatz Energy Center for a regional renewable energy plan, $48,000 for an HSU-sponsored program to train business owners on accessing federal research and development funds and $40,000 for an HSU program that helps business owners gain market knowledge.
The Headwaters Community Investment Fund provided $500,000 for installation of a new flake ice plant in Eureka, which Cleary said retained 400 fishing industry jobs. A $515,000 loan to the county enabled runway improvements at its main airport and leveraged $8 million in federal funding.
A committee has been formed to quantify the results of Headwaters loans and investments, Cleary said. Past efforts, like marketing the county’s grass-fed beef products, have yielded demonstrable benefits, he continued, and one local producer, Eel River Organic Beef, just signed a $2.5 million contract with the Whole Foods grocery chain.
Telemedicine, which allows Internet-based patient-doctor consultations, has contributed to the county’s health care system, Cleary said. “Having a good quality health care system is critical to the ability to keep people here and attract people here,” he continued.
During public comment, Dave Bitts, a local fisherman and crabber, said the Headwaters investments in fishing infrastructure will pay off and could be instrumental in the upcoming salmon fishing season. Bitts said “It looks like there’ll be some limited recreational and commercial opportunities in the ocean this year,” with the season potentially “skewed to the north” due to more robust Klamath River runs.
After hearing the annual report, Humboldt supervisors approved funding for a major new Headwaters initiative — a 10-year, $1.5 million schools-based effort to encourage students to pursue vocational training and college. Cleary said that although work opportunities in the timber industry have been lost with mill closures, there are newly-emerging areas of job growth but not enough takers.
“The biggest issue facing Humboldt County right now is a shortage of skilled workers,” he continued.
Based on current enrollment levels, the number of students graduating from High School in three years will drop by about 20%, said Cleary. The 10-year program will be done in collaboration with the Humboldt County Office of Education, which will contribute three times the amount of the Headwaters funding.
One of the goals of the program is to raise high school graduation levels to 95%. If the program succeeds, graduating students will be familiar with higher education options and motivated to pursue them.
“We’re looking at the future right now and realizing that in order to meet the needs of businesses, we need to not only have our children graduating high school, but we need them to go on to continuing education and to get increased skills,” Cleary said. ¥¥