A Bridge to Somewhere

Next year, the northbound span of the I-5 Columbia River bridge will celebrate its 100th anniversary. I has now been over three years since the Columbia River Crossing project was shut down. A variety of factors led to the project's demise, including partisan politics, project shortcomings, and economic timing. Many community leaders, some no longer with us, spent endless hours debating and discussing the project to come up with a locally preferred alternative and a final EIS that attempted to reflect the technical needs and community desires for a new bridge. What they left with was nearly $200 million spent, a great deal of political capital expended, and many broken relationships. Whether you liked the project or not, it was one of the greatest public process tragedies of our time. 

So much has been written and said about this project that it is hard to say anything without inadvertently plagiarizing someone. But after all the second guessing and blame placing, one thing still remains: the problem. Our organization focuses on growing and attracting traded sector industries as a way to maximize economic output and to create the highest possible standard of living for our community. We spend a great deal of time meeting with these companies to learn about both the challenges and opportunities facing their organizations. Consistently, we hear that regional mobility for freight, commerce, and people is a significant limiting factor to expansion or relocation to Clark County. Within that, the congestion and unpredictable nature of I-5 traffic is noted as the biggest issue by far. 

For Clark County economic development, the issue is not how to get more skilled workers living here an easier commute to Oregon. In fact, we prefer to keep as many as we can living AND working in Clark County. For us, this project is about improving essential freight and commerce for SW Washington companies, freeing up access to key business centers located in Clark County, and expanding the area from which our businesses can attract talent. 

From an economic output perspective, it is foolish to intentionally inhibit the movement of all traffic to attempt to incentivize working closer to home.  When we limit our regional mobility as a result of politics, we restrain the output and efficiency of the entire region. Moving goods, services, and people becomes more expensive, if not outright impossible, leading to higher prices or businesses being forced to leave the region altogether. We essentially make our "economic pie" smaller than it should be. While we may continue to differ on transportation and transit policies across the river, we must recognize that strong regional mobility is a paramount necessity of a healthy economy. Competition for business is fierce and we cannot afford to operate in silos when it comes to region-wide issues. 

A new formal process must begin this year and must be structured in a way that represents the diverse array of communities and perspectives with a stake in the outcome. It must begin with a shared agreement of the problem, and a commitment to fix it, even if that means the final product is not exactly perfect by all standards. In 2019, critical maintenance work will clearly highlight the economic impact of our interstate bridges. If we wait until then, or if something worse happens that triggers the discussion, we will have done our community a great disservice. It is likely that many of us will not be here to fully see or benefit from the final product of this effort, but we must move forward and establish a clear vision that will carry forward to future generations and elected bodies. The future business is risky, ugly, and underappreciated, but it is our business and the time is now. 

 

 

The Power of a Unified Plan

This fall, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, along with more than 140 private and public partners, will embark on creating a unified economic development plan for Clark County. The front end of this project will involve both formal data collection about our area's economic conditions, interviews of key stakeholders, and a robust review of existing partner plans. The effort will tell us both what we can do, as well as what we want to do. Our ambitious goal is to bring forward a plan that provides clear and committed guidelines to direct how we invest our limited time and resources over the next few years.

A good plan will also push us in areas that are critical to our future success, but where it may not be easy to find consensus. Most economic development plans track areas where there is already organization and momentum toward a particular goal. A great plan will do this, and also make the case for new, necessary, and bold initiatives that will put the community on a better path than it would otherwise realize. That's where the hard work comes in. Over the past five years, strong relationships have been built that should help us get through the tough parts. Our community is fortunate to have quality leaders that can build their organizations while keeping the bigger picture in mind. 

In terms of economic development, this is truly a historic time to be living and working in Clark County. Multiple significant projects that were originally invested in more than ten years ago are now starting to break ground. The area has received a lot of attention as a great place for businesses to plant roots and grow, as well as being a great place to just hang out and have a beer. We also have significant challenges around aging infrastructure, affordable housing, and funding needs for public services that correspond with this respective growth.  We will need to have difficult conversations about how we will remain globally competitive (if that's what we want), while investing in the services and infrastructure that will lead to continued growth and community development.

The new plan needs to speak as much to La Center as it does to Vancouver. It needs to reflect the value and potential of each of our many great cities and ports. It needs to recognize the role that education and infrastructure play in building the foundation for a successful future. It needs to appropriately assess and leverage our role in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro Metropolitan Statistical Area. It should realize the best of what we as a community are and foster the type of economic growth that embodies the true values of our area. I look forward to working with you on building a very important playbook for moving us all in the right direction. 

Select USA!

The CREDC joined the Washington State Department of Commerce and our economic development partners around the state at SelectUSA to promote Clark County to foreign companies looking to invest or expand in the United States. The summit included more than 2,500 participants from around the world. Several companies we met with had real projects and were actively seeking West Coast partners or sites. 

In addition to the direct business connections, SelectUSA was a great reminder of the great blessing it is to do business in the United States. At the top of the list for any company looking to invest or expand is consistency (the ability to accurately assess risk) and having the ability to innovate new products and services. Despite all our challenges, the freedom and stability of the US market is a huge competitive advantage and continues to drive both domestic and foreign investment. During his keynote at the event, President Obama stated “No country has done more to build a culture of making and tinkering, and entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and of innovation and invention.” It is this spirit of innovation that will lead to the US playing a major role in solving global crises in Healthcare, Water, and Energy

The other side of the coin is predictability and stability. We perhaps take for granted the guarantees provided by the US judicial system with regard to honoring contracts and ensuring a fair business environment. While it may not seem like we enjoy political stability and a consistent regulatory environment, the range of options that determine risk to a business are far more limited than in many developing and some developed markets. Our continued success will rely on current and future generations holding dear these principles of freedom, democracy, and innovation. 

As we enter the Independence Day holiday weekend, I encourage you to take 15 minutes and listen to the comments by the President about why right now and right here is the best place in history to do business. Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Obama speaks at SelectUSA

President Obama addressing the crowd at SelectUSA 2016. 

President Obama addressing the crowd at SelectUSA 2016. 

The Business Case for Equity and Diversity

To be honest, when the Greater Portland 2020 plan began to focus on improving diversity and equity in our region, I had serious concerns.  Not because diversity and equity are not laudable goals, but for an economic developer, these things are often seen as added bonuses that fall more appropriately into the arena of social services.  In an increasingly competitive global market, what could be the business case for diversity and equity?

I've now spent over a decade representing the business (and now the broader economic development) community.  Most, if not all, of the business leaders I work with are dedicated to their community and genuinely care about making our region an even more amazing place to live, work, and play.  That said, they are also constantly responding to crisis, balancing risk, and fighting against internal and external threats to the vitality of their livelihood and that of their employees.  Many community efforts centered around business participation fail because they approach companies with the public good, rather than the business case for their cause. As much as businesses would like to help, there is simply not the space for this approach.  That doesn't mean that a public good can't be dramatically enhanced by business participation. 

The first business case potential I saw for diversity was in the realm of international trade and foreign direct investment.  A community with diverse leadership, in theory, may appear more welcoming to business leaders and have a better cultural awareness that would ultimately lead to more investment and community participation by foreign firms.  Seems to make sense, right?  There are two problems with this approach.  

First, businesses that are targeting trade partners can generally solve this issue by hiring native sales people from their target countries or hire consultants in those countries to bridge the gap.  Second, there is also a potential issue with alignment.  A community's underrepresented communities don't necessarily reflect its greatest potential trade partners.  There are an estimated 30,000 residents of Slavic descent in Clark County, for example, but that doesn't necessarily translate to Ukraine being our best trade ally.  A more global outward face for a community, by itself, doesn't justify the time and effort needed to become a more diverse and equitable economy. 

A capable workforce is the number one issue facing our businesses today and moving forward.  The demand for 21st century skills is intense and increasing.  By 2017, an estimated 45,000 STEM jobs will go unfilled in Washington State.  While our area continues to be a top location for talent attraction, we simply will not be able to import our way out of this problem in the long run.  Responsible leaders must focus on up-skilling our existing population to meet this demand.  To close the skills gap, it will take ALL of our communities working together to train and up-skill our incoming and existing workforce.  This is where the business case for equity and diversity comes in. 

Between 1990 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew from 3 to 10 percent in the Portland region.  Median Household Income for this population is significantly less than White and Asian groups.  If this trend continues, the region risks having greater numbers of people with lower paying skill sets competing for increasingly technical jobs.  It is therefore in every local employer's interest to support the training and education of traditionally underrepresented communities in our region.  This will not happen overnight and we certainly can't expect employers to achieve this goal on their own.  

The key will be to constantly put focus and effort into breaking down silos between employers and underrepresented communities to ensure that these individuals have the access needed to understand the pathways and resources available to attain competitive skills that have historically been out of reach.  The Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce provides excellent resources for small businesses and individuals looking to improve their training and education.  Many other groups are making a similar impact.  The key to our region's business competitiveness will depend on these groups working together to bring the effort to scale.

The result of an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse workforce (from the top down) will be a steady supply of quality resumes for our employers and a better place for businesses to stay and thrive in the long run.  I look forward to working with you on getting us there!

Local or Global? That is the question. And the answer

There are two simple but important things every member of our community can (and I dare say should) do to maximize our economic vitality. The first is to support jobs and companies that sell goods and services outside the region. The second is to support local sector companies that maximize the amount of local products, employees, and vendors they use in their products or services. The former brings new dollars into our economy while the latter keeps those dollars here.

The Columbia River Economic Development Council generally focuses on traded sector companies as a strategy for providing the maximum amount of economic value for the work we do. A recent study from ECONorthwest further quantifies the value of the traded sector in our region, noting that these jobs, on average, pay higher wages, employ more full-time workers, and include more college graduates.  For every traded sector job, 1.6 local jobs are created in the local sector. While trends for regional traded sector jobs have been shifting from goods to services, both are critical in maintaining a solid foundation for continued economic growth. But the story doesn't end there.

If you think about the Clark County economy as one of those spinning wishing well coin collectors (see the title picture), traded sector jobs are the new coins added to device. The total number of coins spinning at any moment is our economic vitality. Coins that come in and slide right down the hole don't do us much good (and aren't very entertaining). Those that spin around many times (local sector) as others are added (trade & tourism) add to a vibrant and growing economy. The more dollars we can bring in and the longer we can keep them circulating throughout local businesses, the better of we will be on a variety of economic health metrics. So whether you're an elected official, business leader, or coffee drinker, you have an important role to play in economic development. 

Things you can do:

My intent is not to say that imports or non-local businesses are bad. They provide many of the conveniences and amenities that enhance our quality of life. However, by focusing our strategy and limited resources on buying local and improving traded sector activity, we are maximizing the individual and collective impact we can have. A strong economy is one in which each community member is mindful of the value of investing both globally and locally. 

CREDC Investor Profile: Ralph Parker, UL

Congratulations to Ralph Parker on his retirement!  From everyone at CREDC, thank you for your dedicated service to our community. 

Energy-efficient projects are just one of the ways UL is fulfilling their safety mission here at their Camas, WA location, which opened its doors in 1994.  Currently, their energy-efficient projects include replacing all exterior campus lighting with LED fixtures, implementing electric car charging stations, and installing insulation of building automation by controlling heating and cooling throughout the facility based upon the outside air temperature and building occupancy.

Celebrating Economic Development Week: Economic Growth vs Economic Development

By CREDC President, Mike Bomar

As we wrap up the first annual IEDC Economic Development week, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on my thoughts around the CREDC's purpose. Specifically, what it is that we do in this community to add value. I believe it's critical, no matter what type of organization you belong to, to ask yourself, at least once a year, why do we exist? If you don't have a good, genuine answer to that question, it might be time to reevaluate your mission or shut the whole thing down.

All living things experience growth and decline. For certain entities, this happens in a wave formula in which growth and decline happen repeatedly in various amplitudes over long periods of time. Others experience a bell-shaped curve of growth and decline until they reach a period of death or obsolescence. The factors that lead to both growth and decline are often numerous, if not infinite. It is difficult, if not impossible, to fully account for (much less predict) all of the drivers at any given time. Economic growth and decline can be understood in this way. If economic growth (even in highly controlled economies) have a life of their own, so to speak, what this is the value of economic development agencies?

In most of my interactions with community members over the past two years, I have been praised either individually or as an organization for all of the economic gains Clark County has experienced. While I very much appreciate the sentiment, I strongly believe the praise to be slightly misdirected. Experienced economic developers know this well, and yet there is still a constant pressure for EcDevr's to view and justify their existence (and their budgets) in terms of current economic growth. There are indeed projects in most areas that have resulted in new jobs, capital investment and tax revenue that would not have otherwise occurred if not for the work of the local economic development team (past and present). The impact of these projects are often many millions of dollars that can justify an organization's budget for many years over. That said, if the effectiveness of economic development agencies is judged by these projects alone, we are missing the point of the exercise.

To view economic development vs. economic growth, let's consider a gardening analogy. Having spent many hours this summer pulling weeds, I can speak with authority that growth happens whether you want it to or not, and often in places you don't want it to. Unfettered growth also creates some amazingly beautiful natural scenes along with some amazingly unpleasant smells. Through gardening, one seeks to maximize the beauty, foster the kind of growth that is desired, and rid the environment of unwanted growth. Too much gardening carries its own risk (see the Gardens of Versailles). Attempts to too tightly control growth result in massive amounts of energy and resources used to achieve results that are less impressive than what nature (or the market) would otherwise provide, leaving those involved feeling exhausted and out of place. Conversely, not enough gardening leads to dead plants and smelly, aggressive weeds that make the space unattractive and useless. 

The appropriate role of economic developers is to ensure the right kind of environment where growth can happen in a way that adds value to a community and reflects or enhances the character of a place. This involves bringing together a broad range of players to help determine what type of place we want to live in. In Clark County, we do this through the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan and through the regular interaction between public & private sector partners. It also includes, making sure we have the right kind of business climate (soil) where we can encourage innovation and entrepreneurial-ism (plant seeds that will grow) and give our existing companies the nutrients they need (workforce development, tax structure, infrastructure investments, lands for jobs) to stay and grow here. Finally, it does include seeking out new companies (transplants) that will enhance the character of our community. 

As tempting as it is to say that we create jobs or investment, the truth is we are better understood as servants in a community garden. The more involved and connected we are in conversations about our future, the more likely it will be that we will see growth that we can be proud of and companies that reflect our values.

For any economic developers reading this, I understand that I am adding nothing new to the conversation. Perhaps I just realized that it was my time to contribute a verse. 

Special thanks to Scott Bailey and the Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference for partnering with us this week to celebrate the role economists and economic developers play in making our world a better place. 

Think Big in Small Animal Health

By CREDC President, Mike Bomar

I recently read a book called Town, Inc. (thank you Betsy Henning) that explored the value of focusing in on being great at one thing in a community.  In essence, the recommendation is to become the "worldwide capital of x."  Afterwards, I thought a lot about what makes up our community: the history, culture, key events, people, and place.  While I think being a diverse economy with a wide range of key industries has certainly provided us resiliency and depth, I do think it's worth considering where we might be able to stand out and further define who we are on a global scale.  It also may be one of the places where local economic development professionals can have the most direct impact on economic outcomes.

One error that can be made by EcDev professionals is to look at a significant investment (new company or capital improvement) and respond as if it represents a much broader opportunity than it truly does in that moment in time.  To avoid this mistake, it's important to look at the fundamentals of what makes a strong economy and to take a realistic look at what strengths (and shortcomings) a community has.  While strategies have changed recently, I believe these fundamentals have remained relatively static for some time. 

Place

While often taken for granted, geographic location is often the largest determinant of what an economy looks like in a given area.  This can be defined both in broader geographic terms (ie: gateway to the Pacific, United States, Pacific Northwest), and by a community's proximity to other metro areas (urban, suburban, rural).  Our community is set up well for global trade and regional distribution.  The nature of our place has led to many investments in rail, road, river & runway to move products and people to and through the region.  

The natural and urban amenities of the area also play a key role.  The Vancouver-Portland Metro area is a very attractive place for active people as well as nature lovers with close proximity to an ocean, mountains, lakes and rivers. Our temperate climate also helps define what we do here and who is attracted to the area.  Place alone, however, cannot sustain a thriving economy.

People

While most communities claim to have "good people," what this really means in economic development is the right type of skill sets and general understanding of an industry throughout the population.  Scaling up a workforce from scratch is a very difficult thing to do, even with increased mobility of employees over time.  

World War II and the Kaiser Shipyards brought a massive influx of steel workers, electricians, and other professionals, many from families that remain in the community.  Since then, the manufacturing sector has benefited from the people who know how to build world-class products.  Again, up to the 80's and early 90's, the region saw growth related to the Silicon Forest investments in the region.  We currently enjoy a strong presence of high-tech skilled workers that is appealing to additional tech investment.  

There are many other stories that have helped define the workforce we enjoy today in Clark County.  Talent attraction is important, but employers need to see an existing workforce that will help them be successful.

Education

Education is the very foundation of economic development.  Clark County has the benefit of a Tier 1 research institution in WSU Vancouver and a nationally recognized community college.  In our community, however, a commitment to education goes beyond these great institutions and is felt throughout the K-12 system and other non-traditional education providers.  The interweaving of our local economy and the education system, while there is more work to be done, is an attractive atmosphere for employers looking to invest in a long-term location.  Success with education is about connections and cultures as much as it about the specific degrees and programs we offer.

Tax and Regulatory Environment

Washington state is not known as an incentive-driven state, and I'm more than okay with that.  What we do have is a favorable tax structure and in Clark County, business-friendly local governments that understand the important role job creation plays in the overall quality of life we enjoy.  Historical advantages such as low-cost, reliable energy will continue to play an important role in business attraction and retention.  Data infrastructure and pricing will play an increasingly important role for business. 

Vision and Team

It's not enough to have the ingredients for success.  Becoming known as a worldwide leader takes a group of committed and thoughtful people willing to put in the time and resources to make it happen.  We have a committed and involved group of leaders that provide us with the opportunity to make meaningful progress toward being a globally known community. 

The Small Animal Health Capital of the World?

Recently, new investments and projects in our community have led us to wonder about Clark County's potential to be the "Small Animal Health Capital of the World."  While there's a lot of exploration left to do before we direct resources down that path, there are some interesting linkages across the fundamentals that could bode well for our area's place in that industry (and my dog's well-being). 

Southwest Washington is already known as a pet-loving community.  The growing abundance of dog parks and the strong support for the Humane Society point to a community that cares about its pets.  There is also a strong presence of health care professionals and experts in the region, as well as companies that focus on health care products and services.  The opening of Banfield Pet Hospital's headquarters in East Vancouver will likely have the largest immediate impact on our area's reputation as a pet-lover's paradise.  Beyond the obvious corporate presence and community affinity for furry little friends, we have more to offer to the future of animal health. 

In education, we have connections to the life sciences from K-12 through higher ed.  While most of the focus is currently on human health, many of the applications could also be tailored toward animal health.  Companies in life sciences also work across both fields.  WSU has a world-class vet med program in Pullman.  It's likely that the expertise and resources of the broader system will be able to support a stronger presence of animal health research and education here in Vancouver.  As research & development is critical to this industry, support from state and local governments will be necessary for both educational institutions and industry partners. 

Partners with a strong vision for life sciences and health are also present.  The Port of Vancouver's Columbia River Life Sciences Park will provide initial space and an ongoing presence of life sciences firms at the new waterfront.  There have also been key investments in data infrastructure that is becoming increasingly important in the life sciences sector (think genomics). 

While we are a ways out from making the claim that we are the "Small Animal Health Capital of the World," enough ingredients are there to justify taking a hard look at how Clark County could soon be synonymous with pet care.  Stay tuned!
 

Building a 21st Century Makers Economy

By CREDC President, Mike Bomar

Clark County's strong past can help propel us into a healthy economic future; but not without our key initiatives in place

Healthcare is to the 21st Century as the automobile was to the last one. Advancements in medical devices and pharmaceuticals, combined with our increased computational capacity, have launched an era of tremendous opportunity for improved health outcomes. The concepts of both individualized and customized treatment, along with new technologies to reduce aging and cure diseases, are quickly becoming a reality. What does this mean for Clark County?

A blog from The Economist made the case, “Why nurses are the new auto workers." While I believe that nurses will continue to be a key part of healthcare delivery, the movement of care from mainly hospitals and clinics to more care at home, combined with cost-cutting and wage pressures in the health system, will mean demand for new skill sets. As healthcare is a significant and critical piece of our local economy, it is essential that we understand the changing environment and position our healthcare professionals, and our economy as a whole, to be successful moving forward. We can also play an important role in making the devices that transform the way we experience care.

Clark County has a long and strong history of healthcare, manufacturing and trade. From the Hudson’s Bay Company and Mother Joseph to the Kaiser Shipyards, our legacy industries have molded us into a caring and globally-connected community that knows how to build things. Generations of framers, welders, electricians and machinists, combined with our strength in the healthcare and high tech sectors, allow us to showcase a robust workforce that can adapt as manufacturing changes in the diverse economy we enjoy today. We will continue to build great big things as we have for more than a century, but we also have an opportunity to thrive in the manufacture of increasingly smaller and more complex products. The key to our success will be playing off our historical strengths, connecting our education system (K-20) to the manufacturing industry in a way that shows promising pathways for our youth, and building the necessary infrastructure to meet the needs of today’s employers.

The diverse worlds of healthcare, manufacturing and high tech are increasingly demanding a common set of essential skills. Those seeking the careers of tomorrow will need to be personable and professional, but also creative and technically proficient. To be successful, we must meet the systemic needs of our employers. At a recent life sciences startup symposium at OHSU, an audience member asked me a great question: “Where do we go when we need more than just PhDs?” If we truly want to grow and retain our local companies and talent, we need to train an army of researchers, entrepreneurs, managers and makers to meet the needs of each stage of business growth.

Partners like WSU Vancouver and Clark College have done great work in both meeting student demand and also offering the degree programs most needed by our employers. We also have an amazing K-12 system with strong community support that is increasingly connected to employers. This allows our children to learn about the career opportunities close to home, while obtaining the education and skills needed to thrive where they have their roots. While more work is needed, silos are beginning to break down between public, private, education and nonprofit institutions in a way that will be attractive to both new employers and existing companies seeking growth.

The CREDC has successfully assisted three manufacturing companies in relocating to Clark County so far this year and is currently working with 10 more considering relocation to the area. If we preserve (or enhance) our global competitiveness on energy rates and reliability and we combine that with a skilled and adaptive workforce, we will be able to meet the needs of not only these companies, but many more to come.

Get used to change, because here it comes!

By CREDC President, Mike Bomar

2016 is off to a great start for the CREDC. While the current level of economic activity is exciting, we have several aggressive initiatives this year that will prepare our community to be successful in the years ahead. The first, our Employment Land Study, is already underway thanks to the commitments and contributions from our public sector and utility partners. The nature of site selection for significant job creators is extremely competitive. For Clark County to be successful in providing the opportunity our employers need to grow and locate here, we must work together to identify how to best preserve and prepare our significant employment sites for rapid and cost-effective development. The Employment Land Study, along with the ongoing leadership of our Lands for Jobs Committee, will help us get there. 

Economic Development is a team sport. The direct work of our organization depends heavily on public, private, non-profit, and education partners working together for a common goal. We are blessed to have committed leaders in each of these areas. Our second major initiative will be to highlight the great work of our partners in a series of short video clips. The goal of this effort is to help our stakeholders better understand each other and for the broader community to better understand the impact our leaders are having on the local and global economy, as well as our quality of place. Be sure to follow our social media streams to learn more about our partners. 

A third big lift this year will be the launch of our new Comprehensive Economic Development Plan for Clark County. Since 2011, the existing plan has guided our strategies and initiatives as an active and purpose-driven tool for our staff and partners.  We have accomplished much over the past five years. We must now look to the next five years and take the time to examine how our local economic makeup has changed, how the global economy has changed, and how we need to change in order to truly accelerate business growth and innovation in Clark County. 

Thanks to the ongoing generosity, engagement, and wisdom of our many partners, I am confident that we will look back on 2016 as the year Clark County came together and set us on a path for a healthy and strong economic future.

Exploring Public Private Partnerships

By CREDC President, Mike Bomar

In February, the CREDC joined our three local ports at the 2015 Public-Private Partnership Conference in Dallas, Texas.  The group undertook this effort to both learn more about public-private partnerships (P3s) and to highlight the amazing projects in which the ports have invested in order to attract private sector partners.  While still a small percentage of the overall project portfolio, P3s are becoming an increasingly more attractive option for both public entities and private developers/investors.  The P3 Conference site explains:

"Public-Private Partnerships are providing an innovative means for governments to deliver infrastructure at the municipal, state, and federal level.  Partnerships between government and private industry create opportunities for innovative approaches to financing, developing, and maintaining major projects."

Before digging in too deep, it is important that P3 is defined in the context of our current exploration.  The CREDC itself is considered a public-private partnership in the sense that we are an organization that utilizes investment and resources from both the public and private sectors to achieve a common good while leveraging the advantages of both worlds.  For this effort, our focus is on public sector projects and assets that provide an opportunity for private sector involvement that creates efficiency not possible through the public system and its traditional financing options. 

One lesson from the P3 Conference was that this type of project is not appropriate in all cases.  There are many examples of projects that either belong as a purely private endeavor as well as projects that demand a fully public approach.  P3 projects are often identified as significant (often $100 million or more) and having an outcome that necessitates public control of some aspect of the project while falling outside the core competencies of the agency tasked with the deliverable.  At this conference, we focused on three project types that could potentially benefit Clark County with a P3 financing model:  bridge/road infrastructure, hotels and waterfront development, and student housing. 

As I write this, the Washington State Senate is currently considering a comprehensivepackage that includes an 11.7 cent gas tax to help fund $15 billion of transportation infrastructure projects.  Included in this package is a series of reform bills.  One of them, SB 5997, encourages the use of design-build contracts for state public works projects over $10 million.  While this delivery method has its positives and negatives, it is an example of involving the private sector earlier in the process in an effort to create a more collaborative approach and streamlined process to deliver public projects.  Taking it a step further, the state could consider financing models in which private investment funds projects up front while realizing a share of the revenue generated from the project over its lifespan.  The George Washington Bridge Bus Station Renovation is an example of this type of project.

A common connection between all three local ports is waterfront redevelopment. The Port of Ridgefield's Miller's Landing project is an impressive case study in environmental remediation, now offering over 40 acres of high quality waterfront development opportunity.  The Port of Vancouver is actively working on reinvigorating Terminal 1 with their Waterfront Legacy Project.  This site provides a host of potential social infrastructure projects.  Last but not least, the Port of Camas-Washougal is revitalizing its waterfront to bring the area to a higher and better use and to attract and enhance private development in that area.  While these waterfront projects are all very unique in their potential and structure, each offers their port authority with an opportunity to look at how P3 models could enhance the final projects that end up on each of these key sites. 

The third application of P3 that may have some potential in Clark County is around the financing of student housing.  As WSU Vancouver continues to expand, it will inevitably need to consider on-campus housing and efficient ways to deliver this product.  The conference discussed several aspects of P3 and higher education.  Of particular interest were the potential parallels that can be drawn between the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) and student housing opportunities. 

A recent study by the Washington State Legislatures regarding P3s in Washington State transportation projects showed great potential for savings in utilizing this approach.  The savings must be balanced with the risk and also include strict contract language and structures that protect the partners and the public.  Our state benefits from companies with great expertise in the realm of P3s and certainly has a great demand for big projects, with limited resources to fund them.  The Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure (AIAI) is a great resource for tracking states with best practices for enabling P3 projects to move forward where appropriate. 

There is still a lot of work to be done in our country at all levels of government to determine which projects and under what conditions P3s should be utilized.  However, in an age of limited resources and an increasing expectation to address deferred maintenance and investment, entities should be given every opportunity to explore and utilize responsible P3 models that can deliver projects expediently while saving taxpayers money. 

Defending our competitive advantages, pursuing new opportunities

By Mike Bomar, CREDC President

It is an exciting time to be in Economic Development in Southwest Washington.  We currently enjoy strong partnerships between the public and private sectors, along with positive momentum and collaboration among the various business organizations that represent Clark County’s key industries.  Thanks to the excellent vision and strategic investments of our predecessors, we are also positioned to attract a significant amount of new investment into our area in the coming years and beyond.  In order to ensure that we realize this potential success, policymakers and business leaders need to focus on three things: protecting our competitive advantages, capturing new growth opportunities for both existing and prospective companies, and keeping our eye on the future.

Relative to other U.S. counties and many international locations, the low cost of power in Southwest Washington is a huge competitive advantage for businesses, particularly those who are high energy consumers such as the semiconductor industry and metal fabricators. Clark County’s average commercial electric rates, for example, are 42% lower than the national average and 48% lower than San Jose, CA, while on the international front Clark County’s industrial electric rates are 47% lower than Germany, 50% lower than Japan, and 61% lower than the UK.  The savings garnered by these low power costs allows us to attract and grow companies that value quality of place and believe in investing in their employee experience.  Beyond providing better wages and protecting the environment, these types of companies also have a stronger indirect impact on growing the service sector and local small businesses.  Additional incentive programs have also been enacted that allow us to attract and retain these economic development diamonds.  Among them are the High Tech Business & Occupation (B&O) tax credit for research and development spending, the High Tech Sales & Use Deferral/Waiver, and the B&O tax exemption for some food processors.  Far from being loopholes, these incentives create a net positive for our area in the types of jobs they attract and the increased impact those jobs have on our economy and on tax revenues.

When considering new industry opportunities for the area, we look closely at our existing structural advantages as well as how those new industries could complement existing clusters.  One growth industry that appears to be very well-suited for Clark County is advanced composites.  Composites bring lighter, more durable materials to products that make them faster, safer and overall more efficient.  This industry encompasses a variety of applications, and here in Washington we see strong supply chain opportunities in the aerospace, defense, automotive and marine industry sectors.  In an effort to support the growth of the advanced composites sector locally, the CREDC traveled to Singapore in November to market Clark County to composite companies looking to relocate or expand in the Northwest, and to hear from international industry leaders regarding composite trends and best practices.  Other local endeavors include our education leaders considering new programs to train a skilled workforce to support the industry and examining ways we can take part in improving the lifecycle impacts of these materials through advancements in composite recycling technologies.

Despite the great activity and growth initiatives taking place in Clark County, we cannot afford to be satisfied with the status quo.  Our responsibility is to continually focus on the future to enable prosperity that we ourselves may not live to see.  This includes ensuring an adequate supply of land for jobs that is ready to serve the types of industries we want to attract, promoting and creating sustainable economic development policies and tax structures, and creating visions that can withstand the forces of politics and short-lived trends.  Our success will depend on public and private partners being willing to invest in each other and to work together to address the challenges and opportunities of the future.