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1970s South Hill Economic Report

by Carl Vest

In July 1977 the Department of Economics of the University of Puget Sound published a report titled “An Economic Study of the Puyallup Valley-South Hill Area of Pierce County, Washington.”  The authors were Ernest Combs, Bruce Mann, and Michael Veseth. The work was funded by the Pierce County Planning Department and the intent was to develop basic background information for county planners.

The authors found that during the period between 1960 and the 1970s both Washington State and Pierce County had grown more rapidly than the US average.  The growth rate appeared to be about 3.5 percent per year. They also concluded that the in-migration of people was largely composed of young families and school aged children.  

It was determined that most people were employed outside of the neighborhoods where they lived and that the Puyallup Valley-South Hill area operated as a suburban residential region for the rest of the County. Retail stores and contract construction comprised the bulk of local employment opportunities. In terms of jobs held by the locals, most were of the blue collar type.

Housing was considered a problem.  The report states that from 1960 to 1970 housing stock increased by 41 percent.  But, between 1970 and 1976 it increased an additional 24 percent.  It was decided that housing prices in the study area were rising more rapidly than incomes when compared to the Pierce County area as a whole.

Agriculture was still considered an important economic force.  The major doings were dairying, vegetables and berries, poultry, and ornamental horticulture.  The value of agricultural output in 1974 was estimated to be about $35 million.  It was determined that since 1945 the percentage of land utilized for farming purposes had declined.  The authors suggested the reason for this was the poor quality of the land plus its conversion to other uses.

It appeared to the study group that the primary governmental function being provided to local citizens was education for their children.  The second and third thrusts were fire and police protection.  To pay for these services, the County relied on funds from state and federal sources plus money raised by the property tax.  These sources accounted for about three-fourths of local revenue. Property taxes in the study area were considered below the statewide norm.  An increase in the tax rate was recommended.

The study also considered the need to maintain open spaces as the population continued to increase.  It was professed that open space should be classified as an economic public good.  They observed that some of the benefits of open spaces included scenic beauty, environmental advantages, and educational value to the public at large.  The authors recommended that this could be accomplished by public purchase, restrictive zoning, public purchase of development rights, transfer of development rights, or preferential assessments.  A mixture of these was recommended.
The facts cataloged by this study undoubtedly enabled the County government over the years to be more responsive to the citizens.  It was a major growth period.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society