“Find Your Own Port Townsend”: Advice from the 2013 Thriving Communities Conference

Mar 29, 2013 by

“Find Your Own Port Townsend”: Advice from the 2013 Thriving Communities Conference

It’s a thrill to report on the second annual Thriving Communities Conference at the Whidbey Institute, where last week 100 attendees from around the Cascadia bioregion were exhorted to “find your own Port Townsend.”

That is, take the pulse of your own community and listen for direction on how its uniqueness might be nurtured. Then find that path and set forth on the journey to realize your community’s best potential.

This whimsical phrase—in the vein of “Follow your [own] bliss”—was spontaneously coined in a video interview by Port Townsendite Peter Quinn, who is the CEO of Quimper Mercantile and also the director of our Economic Development Council, “Team Jefferson.”

PQuinn_03_13You can watch the video below, but I’ve transcribed Peter’s words here:  “Port Townsend is unique in that it’s not unique. It’s unique in that … because of its location, [the residents] … know they have to take care of things on their own. Any community can do that. They just have to realize that they can do that. So they just have to find their own Port Townsend in themselves in order to make that work.

If you are waiting for Walmart to come in and provide 500 jobs, then you haven’t found your Port Townsend yet as a community.



Port Townsend is an incredibly cool place to see a local economy living, breathing and growing.

WSUExt_SPIRAL [Graphic by WSU.]

Pieces of our local-economy puzzle include:

~ a pioneering local lending network, LION, that has provided$3 million in private funds for local entrepreneurs;

~16 volunteer business professionals who lend their expertise through Team Jefferson;

~one of the state’s 24 Small Business Development Centers;

~an award-winning Main Street Program to steward businesses in our historic districts;

~and a progressive, independent Chamber of Commerce.

We also benefit from an active WSU Extension office as well as a community college branch.

I should also add our independently owned and well-subscribed weekly newspaper!

But every town has the potential to be as cool as Port Townsend in its own way—to be the kind of place you talk about with a tear in your eye, as former mayor Brent Shirley puts it in his video interview.

So now that your interest is piqued, here’s the 7-minute video that was produced for the conference. It features LION investors, two former mayors and several other local leaders, plus the businesses Sweet Laurette Cafe & Bistro, HOPE Roofing & Construction, and Quimper Mercantile.



The theme of the Thriving Communities Conference this year was Local Economy, with the catchphrase, “We’re in this together.” From March 21-23, 2013, representatives from 20+ communities (including five of us from Port Townsend) gathered to learn, share and process how we can “grow relationships and economies, strengthen communal ties, create a sense of belonging, and sustain the well-being of people and the places where they live.”


Where does your community fit on the Thriving Communities spectrum?
[Visual synthesis created onsite by Anne Jess of The Doodle Biz. Click to enlarge.]

Port Townsend’s local economy was one of four replicable case studies documented for the Whidbey Institute by the inimitable film crew of Chris Korrow and Aimie Vallat. The other short videos featuring Bellingham, Portland and South Whidbey Island can be viewed here.

I asked Jerry Millhon, executive director of the Whidbey Institute, why he chose to feature my hometown. His swift reply was, “Port Townsend’s years of experience innovating, its size, its resilience, its connection factor.” Elaborating on this last point, Jerry said, “We saw interesting threads of connection in the people we videoed. These were people coming together, not just one-offs. [Individuals’ actions] coalesced in things that were larger than them.”

As for the resonance of the phrase, “Find your own Port Townsend,” Jerry said, “It has its own meaning. It’s harmonious. People get it.”

He laughed. “And it has nothing to do with Port Townsend and everything to do with your community.”

Pounding his chest, he concluded, “You just have to find it in here.”


Jerry, second from left


Cross-pollination among communities has been one of the most valuable results of this conference series. Last year’s theme was food—Feeding People, Cultivating Communityand those of us who attended from Port Townsend (interestingly, I was the only repeat attendee this year) came away inspired by South Whidbey‘s Good Cheer Food Bank garden to expand the footprint and role of our food bank garden. Twelve short months later, that has happened. I can’t take credit for any of it, but folks like Lys Burden and Judy Alexander can.

Pollen carried on the wind from Port Townsend fertilized a local investing network on Whidbey Island over the past year:  WILL, or Whidbey Island Local Lending. To date it has 40-odd members and has made at least six loans to local entrepreneurs. Co-founder Lynn Willeford introduced me around the Thriving Communities tables as “the person who put me in touch with LION in Port Townsend.” Glad to be a bumblebee!

Here’s a 48-second spot with Lynn in which she kindly mentions that it was Shelly who “hooked her up”!

At this year’s conference, I got an update on yet another LION spin-off:  WIN, the Whatcom Investing Network, based in Bellingham, Wash. Organizers there are planning workshops to educate potential investors in how to scrutinize local lending opportunities—such a good idea!

Despite the benefits of local investing, there is no definitive online resource on the topic. Part-time Port Townsend resident and Certified Financial Planner (R) James Frazier aims to change that. In the next few weeks, he is launching the Local Investing Resource Center (www.local-investing.com), featuring video interviews with LION leaders that James was shooting on both sides of the Thriving Communities Conference! On the website, you can subscribe to the e-newsletter in order to receive the launch announcement.

Is there a local lending network in your community? Let me—or James—know about it.



Whidbey Institute staffer Hannah Lee Jones wrote some inspired copy for the Thriving Communities Conference program. She hit the nail on the head with this:

“When people put their money into growing a community, what emerges is a picture of synergy:  a belief in the rightness and value of what businesses provide in goods and services to the place they call home, and the deep relationships and sense of belonging their gifts bring about.”


I couldn’t agree more! Which is why one of the action steps I brought home from the conference is to apply for membership in LION for myself and my husband. An existing LION member has already told me he is willing to be our “sponsor,” and the application form (available online) won’t take more than 10 minutes to fill out.

Our first local investment was made in Quimper Mercantile Company (see my recent blog post about buying shares, and I should note the direct public stock offering to Washington residents continues through February 2, 2014—learn more). Now is the time for me and Jeff to consider making a further investment in this place we call home.

I don’t have to “find my own Port Townsend” … I am lucky enough to already live here.

Click here to learn more

There are loads more resources at the 2013 Thriving Communities conference wiki page!


Katie connects strings from her food-security organization in Olympia to other organizations around Cascadia. Throughout the conference, we were asked to add to this visual display and show the connections between our communities.


  1. Brian Goldstein

    What a wonderful community we live in! People live here because they are looking for quality of life and a sense of community. I am inspired by many of the people featured in the video to get involved and make positive changes. It’s not always easy – Democracy is a messy thing – but there is pride in the community and a resilience that keeps us all moving forward.

    Thanks for sharing the conference highlights with us Shelly; you are one of those inspiring souls that fuel our dreams.

  2. Awesome! Thanks for posting.


  1. 2nd Annual Thriving Communities Conference a Resounding Success | B E A M S - [...] To read Shelley’s blog post, and learn more about her work via her website, Sustainable Together, click here. [...]