Using partnerships to market the region

Southwest Washington’s marketing message relies on good schools, quality of life and accessibility

West view of Interstate Bridge

From crisis management to branding in digital space, marketing an individual business may seem complex enough. But what about marketing an entire city? Or a county? Or a region?

That’s the challenge and task at hand for officials in economic development, who say Southwest Washington has much to offer as an urban community and diverse place to live and work.

Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC), sites the region’s position along the Columbia River, with its access to the Pacific Ocean, as being ideally suited for companies that rely on logistics and distribution for their operations.

“The availability of abundant, inexpensive water and power helps ensure that industries such as high-tech manufacturers that are heavily dependent upon these resources for production can remain competitive in international markets.”

In addition to Southwest Washington’s geographic advantage, Bomar said partnerships with industry and education are key, as companies are increasingly concerned with their ability to access top quality talent.

“A highly skilled existing workforce and an unparalleled quality of life, excellent schools from K-20 and the unique tax structure with no income tax make Clark County and Southwest Washington a very desirable place to start a business,” Bomar summarized.

Greater Portland Inc., a Portland-based economic development organization, works in tandem with its partners and board members in Southwest Washington, which include the CREDC, The City of Vancouver, Port of Vancouver, WSUV, Clark College, Workforce Southwest Washington and Kuni Automotive.

“We value our relationship with partners in Southwest Washington,” said Janet LaBar, president and CEO of Greater Portland Inc. “There is a concerted effort to align efforts at the regional level and GPI is committed to ensuring messaging and economic development priorities reflect our bi-state metro.”

While a unified message coming from both sides of the river helps to tell the region’s story, Southwest Washington’s relatively low cost of living is perhaps its greatest strength, especially for businesses looking to find relief from costlier West Coast cities like Seattle and San Francisco.

Jim West, a commercial real estate broker with Caldwell Banker Commercial Jenkins and Associates, knows a thing or two about that, and he talked about the benefits of partnerships in economic development.

“If I get a company that is working on scouting an area for their business, I will connect them to the CREDC as they have all the tools,” he said. “They will help them find the right pathway through the city, county or state and hook them up with the proper resources. If they need to lease space or build they also help with timelines and answer questions.”

West also pointed out the “Impact of land, educational resources and a strong international community as well as the northwest lifestyle as factors in making the area so popular with relocations and new business.”

One of the more high-profile relocations that occurred this year came from Banfield Pet Hospital, when the company moved its corporate headquarters from Portland to Vancouver, taking its 650 associates across the river.

Banfield CEO and President Vincent Bradley talked about Southwest Washington’s strengths and how they played a role in the move.

“A number of factors were taken into account: proximity to restaurants within walking distance, safety and strong support from the local and state government, including the CREDC,” he said. “We are very excited about where we netted out and have enjoyed making Vancouver our home.”

As Bomar noted, Southwest Washington is also desired for its excellent schools; Washington State University Vancouver and Clark College both offer programs that have been designed around business and community needs.

At Clark, by offering classes that the local workforce determines a need for, industry needs and job market demands along with economic needs offer students valuable skills as well as trade and associate degrees. Every program at the school has an advisory board of industry professionals who help recruit and mentor them.

“With growing tech manufacturing companies and programs like machining, welding and fabricating, we are creating more trade degrees,” said Clark College Chief Information and Communications Officer Chato Hazelbaker, when asked how higher education is playing a role in marketing the region. “We listen to industry and they have told us there is a need. We have many associate degree options in these programs and have even added a bachelor’s degree four-year option for the first time ever. The BASAM, Bachelor of Applied Science and Applied Management, was developed out of these strong partnerships with local industry and their desire for their employees to also have management skills.”

In the coming years, as Clark College expands its reach in the county with the planned opening of a satellite campus near the Ridgefield I-5 junction, Hazelbaker said the school will continue to listen to and analyze the needs of the community and surrounding industry demands.

“On the credit side of things we will offer classes like Intro. To Marketing, Social Media and Business Skills, and because we will be in more of a rural sector the opportunity to work with the local farming community and offer classes like Food Science where we will be creating an environmental footprint will of course be a positive thing for the farming community,” he said.

“Our region has much to offer,” concluded LaBar. “With two states, multiple counties and cities, [and] six port districts, we can offer an incredible pipeline [to] companies we are working with as well as the sight-selection consultants and decision-makers to whom we are marketing the region.”

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