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In Island County

Whidbey Employment and Economy In Island County


Island County is situated in the Salish Sea in Northwest Washington. As its name suggests, it is made up of several islands. The two largest are Whidbey and Camano. Island County is the second-smallest county in Washington by landmass, just larger than neighboring San Juan County. Island County is bounded to the north by Deception Pass and by Puget Sound to the south. Skagit Bay and Saratoga Passage are located to the east and Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca are west of Island County. Skagit and Snohomish Counties lie to the east of Island County and the Olympic Peninsula lies across the water to the west.

Whidbey Island is divided economically into two different regions: the northern end of the island (encompassing Oak Harbor and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island), and the remainder of the island (encompassing Coupeville, Greenbank, Freeland, Langley, Clinton and smaller communities in between).

The economy of the northern end of Whidbey Island is strongly influenced by the presence of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) near Oak Harbor. NASWI is Oak Harbor’s largest employer; thus, Oak Harbor has a predominantly service-based economy, and several national chain stores have been attracted to the Oak Harbor area.

The economy of Whidbey Island south of Oak Harbor relies heavily on tourism, small-scale agriculture and the arts.

For thousands of years, Island County was inhabited by several groups of Coast Salish Indians. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the population was decimated by disease transmitted through contact with European and American explorers.

Settlement by nonindigenous people began in the 1850s. Early industries included logging, fishing and farming, as well as some related manufacturing industries.

In 1941, the U.S. Navy started construction on NASWI, which transformed Oak Harbor into a booming community due to the creation of construction jobs and influx of Navy personnel. NASWI remains a strong economic stabilizing force in Whidbey Island. NASWI has also brought many highly skilled workers to Whidbey Island. There is not a strong economic base to provide sufficient employment for the spouses and dependents of those workers; consequently, commuting to nearby counties provides a relief valve for residents seeking jobs.

The median age in Island County is about 43 years old, meaning the workforce skews older. Median household income in Island County is $59,107, slightly higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Island Hopping

Island County is somewhat disconnected from the rest of the state of Washington. The only bridge that reaches Whidbey Island is the Deception Pass Bridge, State Route 20, which connects the north end of Whidbey to the mainland via Fidalgo Island. Prior to the completion of the bridge in 1935, Whidbey Island was linked to Fidalgo Island by the Deception Pass ferry, which ran from 1924 to 1935. Modern ferry service is available via state Route 20 on the Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry, and via state Route 525 on the Clinton to Mukilteo ferry service on the southeast coast.

Travel on the island involves use of an extensive county road system, or city infrastructure depending on location, all of which act as feeders to the two state highways state Route 525 and state Route 20.

Whidbey Island’s state routes 525 and 20 are the only nationally designated scenic byway on an island. It is appropriately named the “Whidbey Island Scenic Isle Way.”

Natural Resources

Whidbey Island was named for Joseph Whidbey, the first colonist to lay claim to it. The township enjoyed both a financial and population boom in the 1890s when Dutch settlers coming from the Midwest and Canada colonized the area and used its rich resources to establish fertile farms. Today, windmills and Dutch construction bear witness to that history. Many of the town’s oldest structures were built near the harbor, since the water trade was the main initial source of income.

Today, tourism is especially important for both Whidbey and Camano islands. On Whidbey, tourists find a wide range of amenities in the towns of Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Freeland and Langley. Coupeville’s Penn Cove Mussel Farm exports large quantities of its highly renowned Penn Cove Mussels. This aquaculture facility, along with a number of small farms, reflects the rural agricultural nature of most of central Whidbey Island. Many of these small farms host farm stands onsite, where customers may buy produce, flowers, meat, eggs and other locally raised products directly from the farmers.

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island contributes significantly to Island County’s economy and to a lesser degree Skagit County’s. At approximately 10,000 employees, the base is four times the size of the next nearest employer in Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties, according to 2013 reports. In military payroll alone, the base contributed $726 million dollars into Island County’s economy in 2011 and $15 million into Skagit County’s. The number of veterans living near the base is three times higher than the national average.

Employment Resources

Whidbey Employment and Economy Resources


National Resources

At the national level such websites as,, and have extensive search capabilities as well as resume tips, forum support and professional networking options.

The National Military Spouse Network, a networking, mentoring and professional development organization, has a wealth of career information at its website, The group aims to help military spouses build a meaningful, sustained career path and offers a library of articles that touch on topics from entrepreneurship, resume tips, self-promotion and more as well as a membership-only discussion forum. The organization also features companies that are military spouse-owned or military spouse-friendly on its Homefront Business Listings page.

Local Resources
WorkSource Washington

265 N.E. Kettle St., Suite 102
Oak Harbor, WA 98277

WorkSource Washington is a statewide partnership of state, local and nonprofit agencies that deliver an array of employment and training services for job seekers and employers. Customers access services electronically through or through a network of more than 60 WorkSource centers, affiliates and connection sites statewide.

Washington State Employment Security Department

212 Maple Park Ave. SE
Olympia, WA 98501

The Washington State Employment Security Department is the state’s largest and most comprehensive employment resource. Services include job listings, occupational information, job training programs and a host of specialized services for veterans, displaced workers and other targeted populations. For young people seeking employment in the region, the Youth at Work website provides job search information, as well as tips on resume writing and other resources.

State of Washington

Employment opportunities with Washington State are posted online. Search by category, department or location, then apply online. Find employment assistance, look for internships or sign up for the Federal Job Corps Program here as well.

Island County

1 N.E. Seventh St.
Coupeville, WA 98239

Island County is among the Top 10 employers in the county. Jobs are posted online with benefits information, and applications are submitted online. Call the Human Resources Department at 360-678-7919 with any questions.

Town of Coupeville

4 N.E. Seventh St.
Coupeville, WA 98239

From the main menu on town’s website, click “Job Openings and Civil Service Eligibility” to connect with job opportunities.

City of Langley

112 Second St.
Langley, WA 98260

From the main menu on city’s website, click “Residents” then “City of Langley Jobs” to view job openings.

City of Oak Harbor

865 S.E. Barrington Drive
Oak Harbor, WA 98277

From the main menu on city’s website, go to “Residents,” then click on “Employment” in the drag-down menu to access links to Oak Harbor’s job openings, Island County’s employment opportunities and other job resources.


An employment agency can offer posts ranging from high-level administration to warehouse work. Many employers use agencies as their human resources department. Agencies advertise, interview, test and manage payroll. A temp-to-perm arrangement allows the employer and prospective employee to evaluate each other before committing to permanent employment.

Municipal and regional chambers of commerce include local employment agencies in their member lists, along with contact information. See Page 19 for a list of chambers of commerce in Island County.


Always keep your resume up-to-date and have different resumes that target specific industries and highlight your skills that fit their job descriptions.

Compile several reference lists with a good variety of people and former business associates. Be sure to first ask each if you can use them as references.

Compose a comprehensive, catchy and succinct cover letter of no more than a page (this is no place to ramble). It will introduce you and your desire to work for the company. Have a knowledgeable friend check it for errors; misspelled words and bad grammar hint at carelessness and indifference. Know what the company does, and highlight skills, work experience and education that apply to the position. Be aware that many employers now accept only online applications so get comfortable with computers.

Maintain a positive, professional and broad-based presence on social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn; almost all employers search social media sites to vet job candidates, and your absence there will raise red flags. Also be very, very aware that images and comments posted spur-of-the-moment can be searched out forever and come back to haunt you.

Be prepared for an interview at any time. When you submit your application, a supervisor may want to talk immediately, or the phone may ring with a call from a hiring director. Compose — and rehearse — your one-minute self-promotional speech on who you are, an achievement or two and your strengths. It’s not vanity to make a good first impression. If a supervisor wants to know why she should hire you, be ready.

Always follow up with thank-you letters and calls. Even today, a letter as well as the quick-response email will separate you from a surprising number of the other applicants — to your advantage — and keep your name fresh in the interviewer’s mind. Judicious calls display your continued interest. Writing out beforehand what you want to say also helps. So does rehearsal.

Be aware that due to the usually huge numbers of applicants, most companies are able to follow up only with candidates in whom they are interested. Don’t take it personally if you’re not notified that you didn’t get the job.


Federal Jobs

Visit to search for Department of Defense jobs at NAS Whidbey Island, or call the human resources office at 360-257-2979.

NAF Jobs

For information about service jobs, including openings in lodging, marina, recreation areas and more (non-appropriated fund positions), visit

Exchange Jobs

Search for jobs at Whidbey Island’s Navy Exchange and Navy Lodge at


Washington State Small Business Development Center

The Washington State Small Business Development Center offers small-business resources for those looking to start a business. Visit for more information.


In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered the creation of BusinessUSA, a one-stop platform for small businesses to get the services they need to make good hires and to grow. The service now offers personalized information, a Training Portal with nearly 200 online classes, videos and chat transcripts, and links on how to start a business, obtain financing, look into exporting, expand, find opportunities, learn about health care changes, be aware of taxes and credits, get help with hires, and ferret out regulations and green opportunities. BusinessUSA is especially interested in increasing ownership among veterans, women, the socially and economically disadvantaged, Native Americans and Alaska Natives.


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