Column: A new direction for the city

Economic development is one of city council’s top priorities for 2012. However, faced with no additional revenues for new staff and an inefficient Community Development Department (CDD) structure, we realized that the priority needed to be addressed through a major departmental restructuring and shift in focus.

In recent years, the CDD added programs and departments (e.g. Parking Management, CDBG Grants and Long Range Planning) without giving enough attention to how the functions should be organized for maximum efficiency. We found some teams having capacity to do more work, and others struggling to keep up with their mandated work. For example, some supervisors had three direct reports whereas one had seventeen. In addition, in 2010 we eliminated the Economic Development Department, but left a business development position. We recognized that a closer relationship between business and community development would improve economic development opportunities.

The new Community and Economic Development Department (CEDD) was created to grow and attract new jobs in Vancouver through the development and promotion of our transparent permit process, quality infrastructure and character of place. The department has two basic lines of business: (1) site readiness and (2) development review and approval. These new lines of business will improve the development landscape so that when a business is ready to expand or locate here, they find a great place to land.

Site readiness

The city does not create jobs. It influences the environment in which employers can grow and attracts other employers. We can consciously focus efforts and resources in specific geographic areas in order to make opportunities for growth more attractive.

Our planning staff has done a great job in the past preparing for the enormous amount of development growth prior to the recession in order to maintain a quality of place and provide adequate infrastructure. With the significant downturn, we are now refocusing efforts to take strategic steps to identify and develop key infrastructure projects that will attract new or expand existing business.

For example, the city is working to implement the Vancouver City Center Vision (VCCV) objective of reconnecting downtown to the Columbia River waterfront through the completion of the access project and permitting of the Waterfront Park by the end of 2013. These two critical infrastructure projects will provide a foundation for economic growth that will be momentous for Southwest Washington, the region and state. The access project will allow the public to connect with the Columbia River from downtown – something that has not been possible for over 100 years. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Waterfront Park will help drive the continuing economic revitalization of downtown Vancouver by attracting major private investment which results in the creation of jobs.

Development review and approval

The city of Vancouver already does a great job of permitting projects in an efficient manner with a focus on customer service. Furthermore, our utility rates are some of the most competitive in the region. We recently quantified these assets to assure the development community that their investment in the community is sound, respected and appreciated.

We are taking this approach to customer service a step further with the dedication of a staff position at Vancouver City Hall to work with new businesses not familiar with the permitting process to provide one point of contact as a concierge service.

Finally, we are in the process of upgrading our permit tracking software and improving electronic plan submittal and review software. We foresee significant cost reductions with electronic plan submittals, as well as a more efficient and timely permitting process.

We believe these changes will further the city’s commitment to customer service. We look forward to continuing a collaborative relationship with the development community to meet all needs of the city so that it can continue to grow and prosper.

Alisa Pyszka is the Economic Development Division manager for the city of Vancouver. She can be reached at 360.487.8617.

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