2016 was a strong economic year for much of Southwest Washington. Mike Bomar, executive director of the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC), said that he is “very hopeful for continued success in 2017.”
However, several challenges could hinder development, including uncertainty in the permitting process, the shortage of ready-to-go industrial space and increased congestion on key arterials.
Clark County: Economy strong, teamwork key to continued success
“The state of our economy is very strong,” said Bomar.
The acceleration of the Steigerwald Commerce Center is a good example. The Port of Camas-Washougal has started Phase 2 several years ahead of schedule in response to continued demand for industrial space in the region. The port is also designing a new 50,000-square-foot building to be completed next year, and is working on the master plan for the former Hambleton Lumber waterfront site.
Fifteen miles to the west, construction on the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust building and the iconic waterfront park in Vancouver continues apace, and 2017 will see additional buildings take shape.
“It’s exciting to see the redevelopment of our waterfronts,” said Bomar. “I feel that we are elevating our communities to world-class status by leveraging the natural features and beauty of our area.”
The Port of Vancouver has begun construction on the 125,000-square-foot Centennial Industrial Building. When complete in mid-2017, it will be able to house up to five tenants and will be ideal for companies in advanced manufacturing, warehousing and distribution. The port also has high hopes for the proposed Vancouver Energy project, increasing wind-energy business and their Terminal One Project.
Construction is moving ahead at a frenetic pace in the northern part of the county at the ilani Casino; the 368,000-square-foot facility, featuring 3,000 slot machines and 135 gaming tables, is slated to open this coming spring. Nearby in Ridgefield, significant upcoming projects include a Clark College satellite campus, a new PeaceHealth facility and the commercial development of the Port of Ridgefield’s 40-acre waterfront site.
All this economic development is exciting – but local experts are concerned about several issues.
David Ripp, Port of Camas-Washougal executive director, stated that “companies are spending a lot of time getting their product out of the area” due to infrastructure limitations. He’d like to see the transportation flow improved both to the north and to the south. Since 2000, Clark County’s population has grown 30.9 percent – but no significant infrastructure has been added, like extra lanes on I-5, since Padden Parkway was completed in the late 90s.
“We anticipate transportation will continue to drive economic development discussions in 2017,” said Bomar.
The CREDC published an Employment Land Study and kicked off a Clark County Economic Development Plan update in 2016. Marc Boldt, Board of County Councilors chair, hopes these will educate businesses about what’s available in our county and drive further development. However, Boldt is concerned about the eventual fate of the proposed 600-acre Rural Industrial Land Bank near Brush Prairie.
“The county’s number one job is to provide infrastructure, but before that we have to supply land,” said Boldt.
He also pointed out that water may become an issue in 2017, based on a recent Washington State Supreme Court decision in Whatcom County. This decision set a precedent that counties must prove there is enough available water before issuing permits for new developments in rural areas.
“We’ve had one work session on [this topic] and I think it will require a full-time person to study how to prove availability of water,” Boldt stated.
To surmount some of these challenges, teamwork is critical. Boldt said that the board is working with local mayors to create “a more cohesive government with the same message and consistent codes.”
According to Julianna Marler, Port of Vancouver interim CEO, the ports of Vancouver, Camas-Washougal and Ridgefield have been partnering to support transportation improvements, legislation and funding programs that help our region be an energetic and attractive business location.
“Our three ports are really leading the way to show how working together as a community can add clarity and momentum on advancing key projects and in marketing the region to the world,” said Bomar.
He added that county leaders must educate teachers, parents and mentors about changing industry needs and how to best motivate and prepare the emerging workforce for the jobs of tomorrow.