President's Column − The Challenges of a Continuing Boom!

By Rick Sepler

Every boom is followed by a bust. This, like the inevitability of another Mariner’s losing season, is one of the truths of life… and economics. Washington State has been subject to remarkable growth. The current economic expansion is the second longest in modern record keeping and thoughts of the corresponding “bust” are in a somewhat distant future. The reality is that we look to continue (with some minor “market corrections”) working in a very dynamic planning environment for some time.

When planners face the kind of long-term regional growth that we are experiencing, we are professionally challenged (either directly or indirectly) to keep up with the demands of record numbers of applications and development, as well as to address the many directly-related and essential issues growth brings such as housing affordability and homelessness. As a profession that is predicated in working in the public interest, we face these challenges head-on. However, there is often a cost associated with our efforts: we use all of our available capacity to focus on the breadth of issues we face. In many cases, we “stretch” to accommodate more workload than normal to serve our communities and clients. We do this both because we value our communities and we would rather stretch than enter cycles of hiring and firing for our jurisdictions/employers.

A hidden cost of “stretching” is the increased stress we feel in our workplaces and the toll it takes on our families and outside personal and professional interests. As Chapter President, I’ve heard from many colleagues that their work is taking all of their capacity, leaving little margin for other undertakings both personal and professional. As you would imagine, expanded involvement in APA-WA is one of the things that may not be highly prioritized when planners are stressed.

As an organization, we are in somewhat of an awkward place – we are likely too small for a full-time Executive Director and just a little too big for our current “volunteers supported by a non-profit association management firm” structure. In order to make APA-WA work so successfully, the Board, committees and section officers “stretch” too. While their efforts are appreciated (and are entirely responsible for the continued success of our Chapter) we need to commit to identifying an approach that is more sustainable into the future – especially during times of great activity in our profession.

Our forthcoming Strategic Planning process would be an excellent vehicle with which to evaluate and develop better approaches. These approaches should maximize the effectiveness of our organization but be cognizant of the limitations of planning professionals across Washington.

In the meantime, hats off to our many volunteers and their commitment to our profession and community!

Return to the March/April issue of the Washington Planner