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It was a busy week, first with inaugurating a President, which is always a reason to celebrate.    President Obama nominated his new cabinet officers who will be helping pull the levers of power on the economic scene for the next four years.   There was a clear message … we’ll have more of the same.

That theme was evident in Thursday morning’s “Building Clark County’s Future” 2013 Economic Forecast Breakfast.  Well attended, but by my estimates down significantly from several years ago.  Maybe people are not so on edge about the immediate future?

This felt more like a CREDC event – as themes from the current Economic Development plan were clearly visible in both the Breakfast session, and the Breakout sessions.  It is important to continue to inform the general public of the elements of the plan as most are unaware of the extensive scope of work that has been outlined and continues to be accomplished.

Here are the five most important take aways  I pulled from attending, and reading the 15 page insert in this past weeks Sunday edition of the Columbian.

Slow Employment growth – Scott Bailey as always, has the most comprehensive numerics on what is happening here in Clark County.  He actually gave us an update on his 2012 Forecast, and he admits he was juts a bit pessimistic- calling for a 1% growth rate.   We’ll end up close to 2% for 2012.  Translating that percentage into on the street activity- We’ve regained half the jobs we lost in the ‘Great Recession”.   The State’s Forecasting council see’s GDP staying in that  two per cent range – which would mean more of the same- and Scott doesn’t  see any single industry as standing out with above average performance.  To give credit where credit is due Scott has been telling us this for four years.  The damage to our system was significant and it takes many years to recover.  Click this link to read more.

Kelly Parker shared results the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce’s   periodic member surveys that show one third of their members have consistently reported moderate sales growth, and the remaining two thirds say they have slightly increased sales.  Many in that first third are experiencing challenges in their staffing due to the increased demand.  Let’s hope that translates into higher employment.

Retail sales stabilize over the past three years: – Deborah Ewing and Paul Dennis highlighted that retail sales have improved for the third year in a row, although we’ll still be about ten per cent below our peak year of 2006.  Our significant challenge is still that we lose almost thirty three per cent of our retail dollars to Portland.

Likely it will be 2014 before we see any major large scale retail developments occur here in Clark  County, although much seems to be happening right on our border at Jantzen Beach.   Deborah expects we may see four new Wal-Mart Neighborhood markets that will help spawn smaller service businesses that will be attracted by the high volume of consumer trips.  Retail rental rates should remain stable, and vacancy will decrease slightly.

Innovation and change are the key to rebuilding: The most interesting Break Out may have been the ‘New areas of Promise”.  A key element of the CREDC Development plan is focusing on local entrepreneurs, and assisting them in growing their businesses.  If you’ve been to a PUB Talk, or the VBJ Business Growth Awards, you experienced a taste of the entrepreneurial culture that is alive and well here in ClarkCounty.  We have elements of the ‘Knowledge Economy” thriving here and we should nurture those companies and create a supportive environment. John White and Steve Hicks talked about some real life applications for how to do this.


Dene Grigar as usual provides an enthusiastic look at the cutting edge of media and digital culture and how WSUV has become a significant economic driver for our region.  In many ways the key elements in the CREDC platform rests on the work being done here.

Infrastructure and Education set the table: – Todd Coleman of the Port of Vancouver updated us on the $275 million dollar Freight Access Rail Project to be completed in 2017 and the deepening of the Columbia River navigational channel completed in 2010 as projects that have already led to almost $100 million in private investment and new employers locating here.

Alisa Pyszka talked about the City of Vancouver’s focus on three main areas – Downtown & the  Water Front to create an attractive urban environment that seems to be a magnet for the new high tech generation.    Riverview Gateway on 192nd and SR 14 and the 192nd corridor, areas primed for both business and residential expansion.  She had some pretty specific numbers on how the SDC charges for new employers are significantly lower in Vancouver than over in Oregon.

There were numerous references in the Keynote Roundtable discussion about the need to resolve the issues around the CRC and to get moving forward.

Scott Keeney of N-light highlighted our advantages with excellent school districts vs. Oregon in the Keynote Roundtable and encouraged us to continue to challenge ourselves, as the return on investment will be significant.  It is one of the things that attracted him to bring his company here.

Dene Grigar  highlighted  the major role Universities have played in the advancement of technology and that WSU is designated as a “tier one” research institution, one of 92 in the country.  ClarkCounty is just beginning to reap the benefits envisioned with WSUV’s establishment twenty years ago.

Lending Revives – Brett Bryant of Heritage Bank discusses the consolidation of the banking system.  In 2006 Washington had 83 banks now we have 50 and we can expect to see further shrinkage with more mergers, but that banks remain the primary “blood supply” of capital.  Riverview trumpeted that they have provided over $44 million in loans since making their $100 million commitment for local lending this past summer. Clearly we welcome this in the Commercial Real Estate Industry, but we also recognize the pitfalls of lax lending policies and don’t want to go back there.

ClarkCounty has suffered more than most parts of the country due to a number of factors, but as a community we have a tremendous foundation to build the future on.  Three Ports, PDX  International Airport, one of the top Community College “systems” in the country, that is headed for expansion , WSUV starting to really hit it’s stride, BPA having it’s  central control  station located here. BNSF having a major rail confluence, Legacy Salmon Creek, Peace Health and Kaiser with major medical are all economic drivers that will help us continue to expand our employment base. The opportunities are there.

I’ve been surprised by the number of friends who are in the early to mid 50’s who are back in school trying to take that next step, to be prepared for these future opportunities that are all around us.   Yes we need community investment and resource development, but we also need individuals willing to invest in themselves to access those opportunities.  Life long education is becoming the “new normal”.

So in many ways “more of the same” …. Rebuilding, Investing and Transforming is the Economic Forecast for the foreseeable future.


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