Not just roommates

SWWDC and CREDC strengthen ties

Although their goals are decidedly different, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council have a close working relationship.

So close, in fact, they share an office and an office manager and one of their employees has a double-sided business card.

The CREDC’s charge is to bring business to Clark County and to aid in existing business’ expansion. It provides a "one-stop shopping" approach, helping with site location and acquisition, business data and demographics and process facilitation.

On the other hand, the SWWDC helps increase economic development by providing a trained and productive workforce pool in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties.

But not working together is not an option, said SWWDC Executive Director Lisa Nisenfeld.

One of the top criteria businesses thinking of relocating in Clark County look at is the ability to attract and retain a skilled workforce. It used to be that companies mostly paid attention to land prices and power rates, Nisenfeld said.

Now workforce development is easily in that crowd – "companies can’t work without it," she said.

"From an economic development standpoint, it makes location and recruitment a far more compelling story," said CREDC President Bart Phillips. "Working together, we can offer the full-meal deal from site location to workforce acquisition."

Their partnership has been in tact since the SWWDC collocated with the CREDC about five years ago. It further solidified when they moved into another office together on Broadway Street in downtown Vancouver in November.

And earlier this year, SWWDC business and industries group manager Jerry Petrick added another title: director of business expansion for the CREDC. Prior to his appointment, Petrick worked closely with CREDC staff in the area of business retention and expansion.

"We’ve always been related in workforce acquisition, now we’re joined at the hip," Phillips said.

Deb Wallace had been the director of business expansion for the CREDC, and when she opted to focus on her role in the Legislature full-time, Petrick seemed like a natural replacement. While she was still with the CREDC, Petrick’s role commonly led him to Wallace, and the team often made joint calls, Phillips said.

Several years ago, it occurred to both groups that the economic development crowd and workforce development crowd were fundamentally asking the same question: What is going to help a business grow in this region?

The concept of partnering workforce development with economic development was pioneered in Portland in the 1980s, but it’s become a nationally recognized approach, she said.

Portland abandoned the strategy in the mid-1990s, but is starting to do it again now.

"If you don’t do it, you’re dead in the water," Nisenfeld said. "It absolutely has helped us. Working together has gotten companies to work with WorkSource that otherwise might have not."

Petrick’s efforts to ensure companies get workers at the right time has paid off, she added.

"In many ways, working with the EDC gives us entry to companies we might not know about until they actually landed in the area," Nisenfeld said. "We can work with them to get the workforce they need ahead of time.

"If we can demonstrate to companies that we can train and deploy and redeploy workers on an efficient basis, we can operate on a low unemployment rate. We have to show that Clark County has the employees they need on a long-term basis."

The overlap allows the SWWDC tune its services to be what companies need and allows it to know where the future is headed.

Because SWWDC covers Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties on top of Clark County, it is in the midst of establishing a similar partnership with the Cowlitz Economic Development Council. The partnership will be up and running in July, with an employee of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council’s employees working part-time with the SWWDC.

In addition to Petrick’s dual role, Nisenfeld sits on the economic development council’s board and Phillips sits on the workforce development council’s board.

Filling jobs generated by economic development is part of the workforce development’s strategic plan.

"On the EDC’s part, it’s part of what they do," Nisenfeld said. "Plus, we live together."