If you want to make Mike Bomar smile, ask him how Clark County fared in the 2018 Legislative session.
Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC), said there’s quite a lot to like among the many measures passed in the session, which ended on March 8. Among them: New funding for tourism and construction, funding to help draw more companies to the area and improved regulations to let the port of Ridgefield build a new ring of broadband fiber around the city.
“Overall I was very pleased,” Bomar said. “Assuming the governor signs everything, we had a really productive year.”
One bill Bomar finds particularly interesting is SB 5251, the “Concerning tourism marketing” bill. Like many bills, it’s awaiting the governor’s signature after being delivered on March 9. That bill will earmark $1.5 million for a new state agency called the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority. The agency will manage tourism efforts throughout the state.
“I’m excited to see more funds at the state level that we can use,” Bomar said. “It gives us an opportunity to highlight the area and be known more.”
The new agency will help coordinate efforts by local groups like Visit Vancouver USA and should provide some much-needed structure to the industry, Bomar said.
“I think we were the only state without tourism funding,” Bomar said. “The funding mechanism is now very stable.”
Funding for the new tourism agency is likely to grow to about $5 million in coming years as well, he said.
Another bill, HB 2664, which passed unanimously in the House and Senate and was sent to the governor on March 8, removes a requirement that only let rural ports provide wholesale broadband services if they had fewer than 100 residents per square mile. That restriction had disqualified the Port of Ridgefield from building out dark broadband infrastructure for the city. Once signed, the change will open the way for the port to start construction on a new 42-mile, $2.5 million loop around Ridgefield.
That effort will provide much-needed services to businesses along the Discovery Corridor, which is an area that CREDC is actively recruiting new companies to, Bomar said.
Abbi Russell, a spokeswoman for the Port of Vancouver, which also supported the measure, said the Port of Vancouver was also thrilled to see the measure pass because it will be good for Clark County’s economy.
“This bill removed one barrier for rural ports investing in the telecommunications infrastructure that many of today’s businesses can’t function without,” Russell said. “It will help ports and communities across our state – including our fellow Clark County port, the Port of Ridgefield – continue to attract new and growing businesses that will bring jobs and additional investment to Washington.”
CREDC’s operating budget also got some stability when the Legislature moved the $2.96 million Associate Development Organization fund from the Governor’s Economic Strategic Reserve Account back to the General Fund. The funding, which pays for part of CREDC’s operations, was moved to the Strategic Reserve Account in 2017, but that funding varies and isn’t stable. So, moving it back to the General Fund was a welcome relief, Bomar said.
“That was a little less funding and a switch from the past,” Bomar said of the 2017 change. “This year we moved back to the General Fund. We’re happy to see it back.”
CREDC gets about $160,000 a year from the Associate Development Organization Fund, which makes up 15 percent of CREDC’s budget. The fund helps several economic groups across the state, he said.
The budgeting shift also restored the $4 million Economic Development Strategic Reserve Account, which is used to help with business recruitment and retention, he said.
“That’s $4 million in economic development funds for companies expanding and relocating,” Bomar said.
Funding from the supplemental capital budget also included $10 million for the Community Economic Revitalization Board and $824,000 for the Port of Vancouver’s Terminal One Project.
“The Port’s Terminal One stabilization was big,” Bomar said. “I think it keeps momentum on the waterfront to keep those initial projects going forward.”
The port also got a $485,000 RTC Transportation Alternatives Program grant to extend the Renaissance Trail through Terminal One, Russell said.
“These appropriations together fill a $1.3 million gap in the funding needed to prepare the Terminal One site for construction of new facilities, including Vesta Hospitality’s new $40 million AC by Marriott Hotel,” Russell said.
Once the project is finished, it will lead to a host of new jobs and revenues for the area, Russell added.
“At full build out, Terminal One is expected to provide nearly 950,000 square feet of new mixed-use development, create 800 new jobs to support commercial activity, drive construction investment of more than $200 million and generate nearly $93 million in state and local taxes over a 25-year period,” she said.
The Legislature’s Capital Budget, which passed earlier in the session, also had some welcome surprises for Clark County economic developers. It allocated $5.212 million for Clark College’s North Campus in Ridgefield, $500,000 for Washington State University Vancouver’s Life Sciences Building and about $250,000 for Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Maintenance.
“Capital funding of various projects and authorities will help as we plan for the future,” Bomar said.
Some bills still failed to pass
Of course, there were also a few downsides. SB 6195, which would have funded transportation projects in the state, failed to pass.
“That would have been beneficial to the I-5 Corridor,” Bomar said. “We thought that was going to do well, but it didn’t.”
A carbon tax bill also didn’t pass, which Bomar considers a mixed bag.
“It wasn’t bad that it didn’t pass, but there are a lot of initiatives going around on the same subject that we’re trying to watch,” Bomar said.
Next year, CREDC hopes to work on funding for computer electronics and life sciences research and development, along with funding for new transportation projects.
“There’s a host of things, but we were able to check a lot off the list this session, so we’re happy,” Bomar said.