Are you thinking of moving to Whidbey and wondering what working on Whidbey looks like? We’re not all retirees. Of Island County’s ~87,700 residents, ~28,000 residents have full-time jobs. (EDC Island County Profile 2020) The Navy accounts for ~11,000, so estimate that total at ~39,000. There are many retirees, children, and people employed part-time or not at all. One answer doesn’t fit all. Keep reading for the details.
The Navy Dominates
The Navy is the largest employer by thousands. If you live in or around Oak Harbor, they are hard not to notice. Some people in the military live as far south as Clinton. Others are quite far off-island and commute 45 minutes or more. Take a look at a map and notice the roads heading to the big blank space just north of Oak Harbor. Not everyone working on base are military personnel. Military bases tend to have a little bit of everything, including jobs for civilians. The base is why the Island’s population is concentrated on the north part of the island. It is also the reason there are so many businesses and jobs around it.
Airplanes Need Built
Ironically, the next biggest employer of islanders is also dealing in airplanes but is not on the Island. Boeing’s Everett plant builds the wide-body jet airplanes people are familiar with. Approximately 900 Boeing employees commute to the plant. That’s more than four times the number Walmart employs on the Island, and no on-island business is bigger. Boeing is only one example of off-island employers with island commuters. Over 35% of Island County’s employees leave the county to get to work. Some may have switched to “Work From Home”, but those jobs are in flux as employers and employees maneuver around each other while trying to find that remote vs. on-site balance.
Keep in mind, much of this data includes Camano Island because the government reports cluster data by county, as in Island County, rather than by geography, as in by island.
So, where is everyone else working on Whidbey?
As we noted, the Navy dominates with 63% of the workforce. The next biggest batch is 20% from governmental jobs like schools, city, county, state employees and hospitals. Then comes the private companies. The ones with more than ~50 employees add up to ~17%. Those three segments add up to ~100% but miss a large contingent that is harder to track. The number of people employed by small companies and entrepreneurs is about 6,000.
Understanding what works on Whidbey is different from what works in more conventional places, like big cities. Island County is officially designated as a rural county. Farm payrolls shift dramatically. Whidbey Island also has officially declared spaces that are Creative Districts. Wander around Whidbey and notice the many artists, studios, galleries, public displays, events, and performances. They also have supporting businesses supplying them with supplies, services, marketing, and such. Artists and farmers are so busy tending their projects and fields, and tend to be soloists, which means dutifully reporting data easily gets out-prioritized.
Is remote working on Whidbey a possibility?
While remote work may be a new thing for much of the world, Whidbey has also held a population of people who live here and commute to the rest of the world. Negotiating a deal in Kuala Lumpur? Your house address isn’t as important as having an airport available. Thanks to the Island’s connections, SeaTac (south of Seattle), Paine Field (close to the Clinton Ferry), and Bellingham’s international airport, a flight can be a drive, bus ride, or shuttle trip away. Canada’s even close enough that some will fly out of Vancouver’s airports when the flights are right. It is hard to track such travelers because they may be employed anywhere.
Sometimes the employers come to us, like when a movie or ad is being filmed here, or a retreat is being hosted here.
It is too easy to label such a big island with the impact of one employer. The Island has hundreds, thousands. We even have a boat builder and a few colleges.
And, of course, people move here and bring their businesses with them, or move here, and the island inspires their next enterprise.
But, retirement, or at least a sabbatical, that can work well for Whidbey too.
For a more in depth look at the data you might like to geek out on the Economic Development Council’s Island County Profile for 2020 by clicking here.
If you are considering a move to Whidbey and would like to discuss this in more detail and are not currently working with an agent connect with us to start the conversation.