Examining economic development: Camas/Washougal

Camas/WashougalEditor’s Note: This is the third installment of a recurring feature examining how individual communities & jurisdictions in Clark County are poised to adopt and take advantage of the recently adopted county-wide Economic Development Plan.

Neighboring cities in Southwest Washington are stepping up their economic development together, but not without a little controversy.

In September, the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) officially unveiled TIP Strategies’ (TIPS) Economic Development Plan for Clark County with goals of growing information technology, higher education, international investment, business development and infrastructure throughout the county.

On the heels of that proposal comes a new strategic plan – this one from the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association (CWEDA). The CWEDA plan focuses on development at the Port of Camas/Washougal. It also includes a model to bring new businesses to the area by focusing on small tools manufacturing, horticulture research and development and by promoting a 10-acre industrial park.

While some felt that this new proposal was an “instead of” strategic plan, Washougal Councilman Paul Greenlee said the CWEDA plan is “in addition to,” and there is no competition with the county-wide plan. Greenlee also said funding for CWEDA is coming from sources that don’t take anything away from CREDC or the Chamber of Commerce.

“This new partnership can turn help where it’s needed,” added Camas Mayor Scott Higgins.

Higgins explained that because of the current economy, his city, like so many others, just can’t spare people on a daily basis to focus on the goals established by the county. With the CWEDA plan, Camas can add a little here and there, adjust employees depending on current needs and work together so neither small city staff gets stretched too thin, he said.

“We’re doing everything we’ve been doing and then added another level,” explained Higgins.

Things are already starting to look up for the city of Camas, according to Higgins, who used current tax assessments that are being mailed out this month as an example. Many homeowners are still underwater, but he said things are turning around and some homes on the west side of town saw an increase in their property value.

Higgins, a self-proclaimed eternal optimist, thinks the CWEDA is going to be a hit and help Camas by adding more focus to something that has already been targeted by city leaders.

“We’ve been successful by continuing to focus on economic development and now we’ve re-upped that,” he said.

DevelopmentThe CWEDA partnership isn’t the first time Camas and Washougal have teamed up to help improve their cities. The Port of Camas-Washougal was developed way back in 1935 to bring jobs and opportunities to the community members. The port now hopes to develop the waterfront area in Washougal between 2nd Street and 6th Street, something that falls right in line with the county-wide plan’s goals.

“We’re continuing a community conversation about the future of the waterfront,” said Port of Camas-Washougal Executive Director David Ripp.

The Port has $200,000 in funding from the Department of Ecology to evaluate the area and figure out what cleanup may be needed, according to Ripp. Once any contamination has been cleaned up, the CWEDA hopes to put the property to a productive use, provide waterfront access to the public and restore riparian habitat in part of the area. To ensure the public has access to that waterfront, Ripp said the Port of Camas-Washougal may buy part of the area.

While plans are in the works to get the port area going and growing, Higgins said there are other businesses moving in and expanding, such as Sharp Solar and Fisher Investments.

Greenlee, meanwhile, said he would like to see growth not only in the industrial field, but also through retail. However, he said the 15-year-old dream of bringing a Fred Meyer to town probably won’t happen anytime soon.

“They [job opportunities in Camas] aren’t going to explode but we’ve seen a steady trickle,” added Higgins.

In addition to port development and big business recruitment, Camas and Washougal are following the county-wide economic plan by developing their downtown cores and keeping small, local and family run businesses going. Higgins said Camas as been able to find money in their budget to support efforts like the Downtown Camas Association, who live by the motto: Gather. Enjoy. Belong.

As with anything, there are skeptics and those who disagree with development. While the Camas City Council voted unanimously to support CWEDA, Washougal didn’t have the same support. According to Greenlee, some just don’t see it being successful or a smart use of time and money. Others, he said, think the cities are just too different for them to partner up in this way.

“Camas and Washougal are not the same boat, but you can’t raise one without raising the other and you can’t sink one without sinking the other,” Greenlee added.

While Greenlee thinks a year or two might be too soon to expect a huge change, he said small and medium-scale growth and expansion are coming and that even some critics of CWEDA are starting to get behind the effort.

“Keep watching us, it’s a good place to be a part of,” added Higgins.

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