The VBJ spoke with Board of Clark County Commission, District 2, candidates Jeanne Harris, D-Vancouver, and incumbent Marc Boldt, R-Hockinson, in separate interviews to get their take on key issues facing local businesses.
Harris owns Battle Ground-based Harris Insurance Group Inc., an Allstate Insurance agency, and serves on the Vancouver City Council. Prior to being elected in 2004, Boldt served as a State Representative in the 17th District.
VBJ: What is the No. 1 business issue facing the county and what do you plan to do about it?
Marc Boldt: "It's probably our stormwater regulations coming up. If we adopt the state's request, any time a business wants to come into the community, or any time a business wants to expand or remodel, they're going to have to comply with new stormwater regulations. The end result is that they're going to lose land, which would be needed for stormwater ponds.
We have essentially worked with the Department of Ecology and sent in our current draft code, which gives businesses an option of mitigating stormwater regulations without using any more land. (Options include) low-impact development strategies like pervious surfaces that don't create runoff, using rain gardens, more soil throughout the existing facility and possible roof gardens. We need to stand by that."
Jeanne Harris: "The county's development review process and transportation. If you can't move freight, it affects business. I encourage transportation benefit districts – a tool we already have to create special purpose districts and get the region working together for transportation. There has been reluctance to use it at the local level because we have to ask for money."
VBJ:How do you propose to even out the jobs-to-housing ratio?
Boldt: "In the 2007 growth plan we're in right now, the Growth Management Hearings Board took out a majority of the jobs lands, the commercial lands. We're appealing that and we have to continue to fight to get the lands back in.
If we cannot get the lands in, we'll have to look at rezoning some of the lands zoned residential back into commercial."
Harris: "There isn't a place for jobs in the 2007 comprehensive plan. Where are we going to squeeze jobs in?…I'm not against residential, but we've got to balance jobs and houses.
A house uses $1.80 in services for every $1 in taxes it pays. A business pays 60 cents. When there is a balance, there is less pressure on houses for tax dollars."
VBJ: Do you support the direction the Columbia River Crossing plan has taken?
Boldt: "Yes, as long as the federal government steps up and pays for more than a third of the project."
Harris: "I support the replacement bridge and I support light rail. I spoke strongly on behalf of bus rapid transit, which is going to play a role. The terminus is going to Clark College. My preference was Main Street because I support a more urban style of transit."
VBJ: What is your stance on the proposed Cowlitz Tribal Casino? What should be included in any agreement with the tribe?
Boldt: "I have supported the Cowlitz environmental impact statement in regard to its economic model. I have opposed the alternative that includes the casino.
A casino is not inevitable and in any agreement with the tribe, I would ask that they look at our transportation system more, do not interfere with (Amphitheater at Clark County) business and agree not to increase their acreage.
Harris: "There's a process you go through any time you talk about injecting a sovereign nation. I think a tribe should be able to do something to support economic development for its people. I don't support the size, scope or position of the proposed casino.
Yes, a casino is inevitable. There is a lot of work to be done on a memorandum of understanding. My role as a commissioner would be to create a partnership. I would push for support for services. La Center is working for mitigation for card rooms; Ridgefield on sewer and water. Then there are the social ramifications to look at, such as gambling addiction and domestic violence.
VBJ: Does the business community have a role in developing the county? What is it?
Boldt: "They do. They provide the jobs that people in households go to work at. I think they need to tell the commissioners and other elected people to work as hard as we can to keep our housing prices down. If our housing prices are too high, the people who work for them can't afford a house payment. The two have to match."
Harris: "Education, business, CREDC – they all have to be at the table. They're the ones who know how to do this and lead. Those who already have a stake in Clark County, it will only help.
Business creates new money in Clark County. If you only circulate money, you don't grow. In fact, the opposite happens. Having education and business at the table is important because we need to know what workforce we need."
VBJ: Is there validity to business' claims that they are over-regulated by the county?
Boldt: "Yes. The downside of a great economy for the last 15 years is that no one has taken really hard look at over-regulation. Instead, they wanted to get a permit through the system as fast as they could. What's happened is added regulations.
In the first six months of next year, we're going to almost do what the Chrysler Corp. did in the late '80s – retool the entire permit process and code and decide what's mandated by the state and necessary for protection of the people. Anything else will be taken out."
Harris: The county makes it so dang hard to develop with the cost of permitting and the fact that we put a lot of responsibility on developers to build infrastructure…We need to focus, identify major economic centers and get the infrastructure ready so land is truly shovel ready."
VBJ: How would you promote economic development in the county?
Boldt: "What we have to promote is work through the county's and the cities' economic development people, such as (county Economic Development Manager) Kelly Sills and (Columbia River Economic Development Council President) Bart Phillips. We really need to push our great schools, great parks, great transportation system and make it so appealing that we can compete with other states that are giving money to businesses for incentives.
I can't see any way local government is going to compete as far as giving incentives in property taxes or cash. We have to figure out other ways make us competitive. We have to tell business that whether (incentives are) property tax exemptions or cash, they come from somewhere – probably from taxpayers or existing businesses. I think we have to tell new businesses that we may give money or incentives now, but next year we're going to have to pay that for a competing biz for you."
Harris: "I propose the creation of a Regional Economic Development Team made up of stakeholders like mayors, administrators, special purpose districts and representatives of major economic sectors. The team would create a vision of what Clark County's economy should be and how we are going to achieve it through partnership.
The next great economy is the green economy. We're placed perfectly, with access to the port and rail, so we can be highly competitive for those kinds of jobs.
The economy goes in a cycle: If you build out residential, services automatically happen. The jobs piece is what's missing. We're in a unique place where we can learn from the last economic age – the economy in the 90s was extremely successful.
We need a partnership with the cities to identify the places they think are good for growing jobs. Clark County would take the lead by creating infrastructure. Ancillary services come from these big companies coming here – we learned that from WaferTech, which created spinoff jobs and services.
We need to see what it looks like from the outside looking in – say here's what we got.
We don't have a lot of tools (to attract jobs) so we have to work that much harder to be competitive, externally and internally. With a partnership, we can promote ourselves as a region, not compete internally. If Battle Ground isn't quite right for a prospective business, we can say, ‘What about Washougal?' In growing our economy, we're growing our quality of life.
We need to make it easy to do business. Now, it's a hornet's next when they get there between Clark County and the cities…Clark County needs to take the lead. All of the cities are creating partnership in an informal way because of the vacuum of leadership in the county."
VBJ: What is your stance on effective growth?
Boldt: "With our growth plan, I think we're in a relatively good position to have a good population in the next 20 years. With that, we have within our growth plan come up with paying for roads, sewers, parks and roads to come along that growth. We need to follow our plan."
Harris: "We need to agree we want managed growth and we need a board that provides the discipline to manage the growth plan…Using smart growth principles enables us to control our costs and taxes and maintain rural lands. If we don't do something now, it will grow out of control like Puget Sound where their fixes are going to cost money they don't have.
Managed growth doesn't mean no growth. It's growth with a purpose – putting jobs close to houses. We're controlling our destiny and controlling our costs and taxes. If we continue down the path we're on now, it will cost us more in services. Managed growth creates predictability for everybody."
Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com