Looking ahead: The State of Clark County's Economy

It is a great privilege to serve as your President as we, the Columbia River Economic Development Council celebrate 35 amazing years as an organization. I want to take this opportunity to present you with some highlights of this past year and to give you a peek into what we expect for 2017. Before I dig into the details, however, I have to recognize the many individuals and organizations who work every day to make our economy strong and our community a better place to call home. 

First, I want to thank our officers for their constant dedication to advancing our economy. Our Chair - Greg Seifert, Vice Chair - Casey Wyckoff, Secretary - Lisa Lowe, Treasurer - Lance Barrett, and Immediate Past Chair - Tim Schauer. We are truly fortunate to have these sophisticated, high-integrity, committed leaders guiding our organization. In addition to our officers, our Executive Committee continues to work diligently to ensure that our activities our founded in good policy and our work is beneficial to all of Clark County. Our Board of Directors is a large and mighty group made up of our community's most impactful and resourceful leaders. I thank this group for their time and willingness to work together across sectors and with various charges to advance a unified plan

Much of our day to day work is supported by our amazing committee chairs and volunteers. The focus of these committees range from Business Recruitment and International Investment, to the critically important (and popular) Golf Committee. Each committee's work plan is designed to advance our economic strategy and  to ensure the health of our organization in achieving our goals.

We also rely heavily on our local public economic development teams and the elected officials who support their work with us. Our area has some of the best support for business from local governments out there.

There are also many local, regional, state, and federal partners who are critical to the work we do. I want to single out just a few. The Governor's Office, and the Washington State Department of Commerce, Greater Portland, Inc., the Economic Development Administration, the Association of Washington Business, our local Chambers of Commerce and Business Associations, Workforce SW Washington, Impact Washington, the STEM Network.  

As you can see, economic development is truly a team sport, and in Clark County, our people are truly our greatest asset.

Before I lay out what we expect to see in 2017, I would like to take just a moment to reflect on some of the successes from this past year. Here are a few highlights from each of our strategic goals.

Become a High-Tech Hub in the Region

The rise of the creative class is upon us. In the Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ) and throughout Clark County, software and web services companies have been growing at a significant rate over the past decade. In Vancouver, creative firms grew at a rate of 40% between 2005 and 2013, equating to about 6 new firms per year over that time. In 2016 alone, we worked with 21 IT/Software firms.

Our Hi-Tech Manufacturing Sector continues to be a critical Cluster for the region. In partnership with the Southwest Washington Hi-Tech Council and Clark PUD, the CREDC worked hard to defend and promote globally competitive power, in both price and reliability. Beyond power, we will continue to engage with this sector to learn how we can continue to provide the workforce and business climate this important cluster needs to grow here in Clark County.

Leverage Our Educational Partnerships

It is no coincidence that we decided on a "Bond" theme for this year's CREDC Annual Meeting. An educated and skilled workforce is the bedrock of a successful economy. Beyond the preparation of the jobs of tomorrow, our K-12 education system is an attractor for business leaders who want their own children to be set up for success in both work and life, whether they remain in our community or not.

Our community boasts 30 percent higher Associate degree attainment than the national average. For most jobs, a high school degree is simply not enough. We are fortunate to have institutions like Clark College and the International Air & Hospitality Academy who are national leaders in preparing students for the jobs of today. We enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate the opening of Clark College's STEM Building on their main campus and know that their foresight and investment will continue to pay dividends in the form of new and expanded companies in the region.

And then there's Washington State University Vancouver (GO COUGS!). One of the early priorities of the CREDC was the formation and growth of this campus. For decades, WSUV has been critical to increased opportunities for our citizens and a stronger pipeline for high-wage employers. This year, we were honored to participate in the formation of their new strategic vision which continues to enhance the role this institution and its broader system plays in our economic success. 

Attract Foreign Direct Investment

We have continued to work toward increased global connections to and foreign direct investment from key markets including Japan and Taiwan. Last year saw 12 FDI leads with 7 of those becoming active projects. Through the federal Select USA program, we marketed Clark County to both a broad range of global companies in Washington D.C. and then specifically to Taiwanese firms at the fall Select USA Road Show. 

Build the Business Growth Pipeline

From spurring innovation in individuals to finding the space for our largest employers to expand, the CREDC and its partners are focused on success along the entire business growth lifespan. 

For our startup businesses, our mantra is space, funding, and network. Last year, we saw new co-working spaces come on-line through the work of both local leaders and new investment into the community. We also saw increased early stage funding of companies like HUBB/Dynamic Events who won the OEN startup stage company award in 2016. Various forums such as Grow Clark County, the WSU MAP Program, the Vancouver Tech Project, and VanTalks have increased startup and early stage business connections between peers and mentors.

In many ways, 2016 was the year of the expansion. Last year, we visited 102 companies to assess, assist, and connect them with the great resource partners we have. We had 16 active expansion projects and 9 physical expansion wins, resulting in the addition of approximately 250 new jobs.

Ensure an Adequate Supply of Employment Lands

Our biggest initiative last year was the completion of a new and robust employment lands study. We identified and studied 56 large employment sites and did a deeper dive on 5 sites that had an important story to tell. This research and the ongoing work will allow us to better inform policymakers on the barriers and opportunities we have to site large projects in Clark County. Our Lands for Jobs Committee will continue to dig into the data to discover best practices in permitting, prioritization of areas, comprehensive planning, and environmental stewardship.

Our Ports continue to lead the way in both collaboration and by providing new development opportunities. In an increasingly competitive environment, our 3 Ports have developed a strong marketing and legislative alliance that will allow these distinct entities to maximize their exposure and impact.

The newly approved Foreign Trade Zone will give the Port of Vancouver and all of Clark County another great business attraction and expansion tool. More tools are needed, however, to foster the types of companies we want to keep and grow here. 

We must continue to strive for global best practices in our permitting processes and associated timelines. Projects carry enough inherent risk already. The more certainty we can provide up front, the better our reputation will be as a truly business-friendly community. 

Infrastructure

The completion of the Discover Clean Water Alliance Project was a huge success and a testament to the value of regional collaboration. Our hats go off to the many who worked for years to make that project a reality. We must continue to look for ways in which we can deliver key infrastructure, whether it's roads, pipes, or fiber to our employment sites more efficiently and in a way that saves taxpayers money. Either through reduced financing costs or outright funding efforts, we must support a system that can deliver when (and in many cases, just before) big opportunities arise. Across the country, communities are aggressively pursuing new business development and our ability to move a project forward in a timely manner will make or break our retention, expansion, and recruitment efforts. 

One of the key themes from our employer surveys was that increased transit and transportation investment is critical. We look forward to working with our great partners at C-Tran and the RTC to build on a strong vision for moving Clark County forward. 

2017

Economic Development Plan

One of the greatest strengths and at the same time challenges of our work is the diversity of Clark County's economy. From our Northern cities of Battle Ground, La Center, and Ridgefield, to Camas and Washougal in the East, to East, Central, Downtown Vancouver, and all the centers in between, each of our communities has their own distinct identities, opportunities, and challenges. In doing the critical work of developing a new comprehensive economic development plan, it is our commitment to present a vision that will leverage our unique strengths and speak to ways in which we can all grow in our own potential toward a common goal of economy prosperity. 

Last fall, with the help of our partners, we solicited feedback from employers as well as our public & education partners, to determine the key themes that will drive our vision and work for the next several years. Our next phase will be to analyze the key sectors and markets that we will pursue using best practices in economic development. 

The final stage of our work set for mid-year will be the implementation plan. A plan on a shelf is of no use. We will provide accountability and timelines to our goals and improve the way we share in their progress. We look forward to continuing to work with you in developing a plan that will establish a clear vision and challenge us to accelerate our drive toward economic prosperity for all in Clark County. 

In the spirit of our theme for our Annual Meeting, here are some key James Bond takeaways:

While this past year was great, we know that Tomorrow Never Dies. You have given us a License to Kill (at growing and attracting businesses). We will continue to keep a GoldenEye out for any Spectre of threats to our businesses. In the Casino Royale that is business attraction, You Only Live Twice. 

For the CREDC and its partners, The World Is Not Enough. Growth for Clark County may eventually Skyfall, but we offer a Quantum of Solace that we are all resolved to Die Another Day.

We at CREDC wish all of Clark County, a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017.

-Mike Bomar, President