CREDC looks back to move forward

Historical analysis shows strong contributions over nearly 25 years

Years in business: 24. Number of employees: 10,250. Average wage: $52,400. Annual payroll: $537 million.

These are not figures for a massive company that has been operating secretly in Clark County for nearly a quarter century. But one local organization can be tied to these actual statistics. Since 1982, the Columbia River Economic Development Council has recruited or assisted in the expansion of 117 firms. Seventy-five, or about 64 percent, remain today.

An assessment of the economic benefits associated with CREDC’s efforts over the years was recently produced by Vancouver’s E.D. Hovee and Co.

Bart Phillips, president of the CREDC since 2000, said an assessment of the group’s work is done each year, but no one had asked – until now – what the organization’s life work had produced.
And so, the study.

A couple things leapt out, said Phillips, including the number of jobs and the size of the payroll created. The average wage rate is much higher that the county average of $35,500. And Phillips expected the number of companies still in business to be lower.

“The average observer might think 64 percent retention is not good,” he said, “but that is actually a very good percentage.”

The intent of the CREDC is to recruit primary industries, such as computer and electronics manufacturers and professional services businesses that bring outside dollars into the community. And, predictably, that’s where the results are.

“(The CREDC) has done that in spades,” said Phillips.

High tech sees high return
Computer and electronics manufacturers assisted by the CREDC represent the industry with the largest number of jobs – nearly 3,000. C-Tech, Furuno, SEH America and WaferTech are some examples.

“Many of the high-tech employers that have transformed the economy in Southwest Washington have been our clients,” said Phillips.

The professional services sector is not far behind with about 2,250 jobs at places like Millennium Funding Group and Wells Fargo’s call center.

C-Tech Industries relocated to Camas from Portland in 1997.

“It was a combination of negatives in Portland in conjunction with positives in Clark County,” said Andrew Gale, president and CEO of C-Tech.

The company, then named Landa Inc., had outgrown its Portland facility. Available sites on the Oregon side were too expensive or blocked by “red tape,” said Gale. The company, with the help of the CREDC, began exploring Clark County.

“The CREDC helped us better understand and evaluate the costs,” said Gale.

C-Tech has grown from 200 to 275 employees since it relocated to its Camas location.

Gale said C-Tech’s location has allowed it to attract qualified workers from across the country because the area is seen as an attractive place to live. But the spike in housing costs has changed that. And the rebounding strength of the region’s economy has made the availability of qualified workers even tighter.

“We have enjoyed up until last year easy opportunities to recruit and find qualified employees,” said Gale.

‘Not a failure of the community’
Not all of the companies the CREDC has recruited to the area have been so successful. In 2001, and Consolidated Freightways arrived, and in less than two years they were gone. Macro economic issues, such as the shift to offshore manufacturing or consolidation, and poor businesses practices contributed to the demise of the companies no longer around, said Phillips.

“The businesses that aren’t here failed because of their business model,” said Phillips. “They were not a failure of the community.”

Knowledge-based industries such as technology and professional services will continue to provide the best opportunities for growth, particularly in research and development and innovation.

Sky’s the limit
With reassurance that the CREDC has not veered from its mission, it now must look ahead to assess if it’s on the right path for the future.

Phillips said the CREDC is asking itself “Are we doing the right thing, and are we structured properly to get the same sort of results in the years ahead?”

The CREDC recently assembled the Blue Sky Committee to look at its role going forward.

One area the committee will look at is funding. The CREDC’s revenue comes from three sources: membership dues from private businesses, local jurisdictions that contract with the CREDC for its services and from fundraisers such as golf tournaments and luncheons.

The CREDC’s budget has been stagnant since its inception at about $470,000.

Board Chairman Paul Winters said, considering inflation, the CREDC’s budget should be nearly $1 million.
“There is an intuitive sense that the budget should be higher,” said Winters. “The committee was formed with the realization that we may require more revenue to continue into the future.”

The Port of Vancouver pays $27,000 annually to the CREDC for marketing, business recruitment and expansion and research services.

“My concern is that the CREDC has not kept up with inflation,” said Larry Paulson, Port of Vancouver executive director. “The community is growing significantly and I am hopeful there will be an increase in the budget to allow for a stronger push for economic development.”

Paulson said the port has increased its funding to the CREDC all along and gone above and beyond its commitment. The port recently contributed $1,200 to bring Washington State Trade Week to Vancouver, he said.

Paulson would like to see an increase from the private sector.

Winters said the committee is assessing what economic development in the community should look like and what role the CREDC should play in that to construct a revenue model based on what the needs are.

“Early in its formation funding was easy to come by because of the great need,” said Winters. “The overwhelming urge is not there anymore.”

The Blue Sky Committee, comprised of 11 board members representing public and private entities, is also looking at budgets of similar organizations and how they are collected. Additionally, recognizing the budget constraints of its partners, the CREDC will have to balance its model with ability to find funds, said Winters.

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