Mayor: We’re competing with the world

Job growth is a top concern for the city

Mayor Royce Pollard is counting on job growth in the city and the county alike. And he’s counting one job at a time.

"Every new job is significant in Clark County," he said Tuesday at a press conference called by Wells Fargo Financial, where Pollard got 115 new jobs to count.

The bank announced it will add the jobs to its collections call center inside the Wells Fargo Financial Center in East Vancouver. The addition will increase the staff by 34 percent, increasing the total number of workers at the call center to 450, and the payroll by $3.2 million, putting the total payroll for the center at $14 million. Currently, 650 people work for Wells Fargo in Clark County. The bank plans to complete staffing by the first of the year.

"This is very significant for our city," Pollard continued. "We’re competing with the world for jobs. We’re not just competing with Oregon. This center could very well have been opened in another country."

Recently released figures from the Washington State Employment Security Department show the Clark County labor force figures to have grown 3000 in July when compared to the previous month totaling 200,700. Total jobs however grew by only 300compared to July 2005. The total of unemployed workers are 900 fewer than July 2005. Neighboring Cowlitz County reported a 6.9 percent unemployment rate, with 3,050 of its labor force out of work.

As recent census numbers indicate more and more Washingtonians are migrating to Clark County, officials will no doubt look for ways to keep the growth rate ahead of the jobless rate.

"I jokingly say that whenever we create one new job, we get 10 people that move here," Pollard said. "It has become such a popular place, and when companies look to relocate, they look for quality of life and they look for community."

Pollard said just five years ago the city resorted to sending its two-man economic development team of Stephen Burdick and Gerald Baugh over to Portland to recruit businesses.

"I called them ‘Batman and Robin,’" Pollard said of the team. "I almost don’t like to say it, but they’d go over there and say things like ‘We need a bike shop in downtown Vancouver.’"

Pollard acknowledged the tactic was unconventional and even extreme.

"Well, you know, we were desperate," he said. "We really needed to create jobs."

While job creation remains one of the city’s biggest responsibilities, these days,

said Pollard, the situation has improved.

"The corner was turned maybe a year and a half or two years ago," he said. "That’s when people started calling us."

Pollard said that while the city has created a lot of work recently, it remains a constant battle. The mayor also said job creation in Vancouver and Clark County is good for Oregon, in that it reduces the volume of commuters across the bridge. City Councilman Tim Levitt agrees.

"We’d like to reduce the number of people heading across the river to work," Levitt said. "It’s been a goal of both the county commissioners and the city to improve the jobs-to-housing ratio here. If you’re working in our community, then hopefully you’re spending your money here on your lunch breaks and shopping. And of course then you don’t pay an Oregon state income tax."

Levitt said having more local jobs generates a non-economic plus as well, citing better community involvement among residents who also work in a community.

"If you’re not spending all your days over in Portland," he said, "then you’ll probably feel more connected to the community, and spend more time making it better."