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by AMANDA WINTERS
This just in: Sequim is getting younger.
While Sequim’s population grew from 4,300 to 6,600 over the past decade, more of the growth happened in the age groups younger than 65, bringing the median age down to 57.9 from 59.3.
It may not seem significant, but in a community with more than twice as many people older than 65 than between the ages of 20 and 39, it might mean something about the future of Sequim.
Sequim Mayor Ken Hays said while people think of Sequim as a retirement mecca, the top-heavy age demographics are an anomaly in the long-term history of Sequim.
“Historically, Sequim was well gradated age-wise,” he said.
Hays said he wants to see the city consider all age groups and lifestyles when planning for the future, not just “bending over backwards” for retirees.
A handful of the 13 percent of the population between the ages of 20 and 34, who are by-and-large Sequim’s minority, want to see that, too.
Enjoying a quiet life
Dakoda McKennon, 25, loves the small-town atmosphere and safety of living and raising his 2-year-old son in Sequim.
A Port Townsend native, he started his banking career in high school and it brought him and his wife to Sequim. He now works in Port Angeles as manager of Columbia Bank on East Third Street.
As a peninsula local who always was in “the right place at the right time” for career opportunities, McKennon has an optimistic perspective on life as a young person in Sequim.
“I think while they’re really focused on retirees, Sequim itself is growing,” McKennon said of the general attitude in his town.
New stores opening in Sequim still cater to the older population but they bring in entry-level jobs for younger people, he said.
Greg Voyles, 34, of Sequim, also sees serving the older community as the driving force of the town.
The Sequim High grad left his finance job with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to take over his stepfather’s insurance business in Port Angeles and be closer to family. At first, he and his wife found it lonely and isolating compared to the cities they formerly inhabited.
“It’s hard to find people in your demographic here,” he said. “It is.”
There isn’t a whole lot to keep young people in the area and he admits he wouldn’t have moved back unless he’d had a good job lined up.
But good jobs for young people are lacking in the area, especially since development has slowed, he said.
Living in Sequim has to be a choice to live a quieter life, he said.
That quieter life in Sequim is what made him and his wife decide to buy a house and have a child. Now they wouldn’t want to raise her anywhere but a small town, he said.
Nicole Brewer, 32, had high hopes when she and her husband moved from Utah to the Olympic Peninsula looking for change four years ago.
But it took her husband, an aeronautical engineer, a year to find a job and she, pregnant when they moved, also struggled to find employment. The challenges didn’t stop there.
A former civil engineer in the military, Brewer got her real estate license so she could work flexible hours from home while raising her two children, but the family still faces financial challenges.
“If you’re in the medical field, (Sequim is) a great place to be,” she said.
Unfortunately for Brewer and her husband, they are not.
She said she was surprised to find that so many young people with college degrees and solid work backgrounds struggled to find jobs.
Even those who are fortunate enough to find jobs, like her husband, are working jobs that pay half as much as they do in other cities, but houses cost three times as much, she said.
“The cost of living is too high for the low-paying jobs,” she said. “There’s a crunch for families trying to make ends meet.”
Brewer doesn’t think they’ll stay in the area for the long term.
Tim Collins, 31, of Sequim, said there just aren’t enough high-paying jobs to sustain a younger population in Sequim. The “retirement community” label might even deter young people from moving to the area in the first place, he said.
Collins said he’s made all his friends through his job at a Columbia Bank branch. It would be nice if Sequim had more amenities for the 25-35 age range as well as more social activities, he said.
Brewer said recreational opportunities like the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center are too expensive for her young family and local preschools are out of the question. Most local preschools cost somewhere between $20 and $35 an hour, she found in her research. Port Angeles has preschools but loading up two young children in the car for a half-hour drive to a two-hour preschool doesn’t seem worth it, she said.
The First Teacher program and Sequim Library are amazing resources for young families and she likes the small-town feel of Sequim, she said.
But overall, Brewer feels that her age group is overlooked. She’d like to see more inexpensive recreational opportunities for young families, such as more parks with playgrounds, more early childhood education and activities, a movie theater and more mid-range dinner restaurants to give young adults more entertainment options. Her opinions are strong and she’s not afraid to voice them.
“As people get their voices out there and say this isn’t just a retirement community, it will help people be more supportive,” she said.
Support for young professionals
Brian Kuh, 32, of Sequim, is co-chairman of the Peninsula Young Professionals Network, a group formed to connect young people for business and social purposes.
“Although it’s difficult to quantify, many other young people in the area have noted the challenges of trying to connect with their peers,” he said. “This tends to be especially true for individuals and families that move to the area and aren’t otherwise from here.”
The group started in 2009 after a series of conversations with other young professionals who experienced the same challenges, he said.
The network hosts monthly mixers and hopes to plan more events that are meaningful and relevant to young people in the area. An Oct. 6 political forum is one example. The group uses its Facebook page to spread information about events and interact with people interested in participating in the network.
For more information, go to www.facebook.com/PeninsulaYoungProfessionals.
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.