A plan for the entire county

In April of 2010, a meeting of all public jurisdictions was held to learn what the expectations were of economic development efforts in Clark County. More specifically, the interest was in finding out the specific expectations for the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC), an organization to which many of those present at the meeting were already members.

A number of points were made that day. One of the most significant was that there was no one leading the charge to develop or work at a county wide economic development plan, and the group agreed one was definitely needed. Some felt as if their jurisdiction was paid little or no head at all; many mentioned the need for more sharing of information about companies looking to relocate to Clark County in a timeframe that would allow for them to influence the decision; others had a lot to learn in terms of what economic development is and what it is not.

In direct response to the feedback of last April, the CREDC convened a steering committee of private and public investors and, working with TIP Strategies, an Austin-based consultant firm, determined areas in which Clark County can excel. That is, the county could excel if the various communities and districts (as well as private sector companies) come together and make the components of the strategic plan a priority for Clark County.

In a draft of the county-wide economic development plan delivered by the CREDC last week, five goals were outlined and promise to enhance Clark County’s economic vitality and prosperity. Those goals fall under the following areas:

•  Information technology

•  Higher education

•  International investment

•  Business development

•  Infrastructure

The details behind these goal areas have as much to do with the community (or more appropriately, the communities) ordering their priorities to allow the economic development to occur.

While not a simple task, capturing the attention of information technology companies is quite easy when contrasted to the challenge of getting a community to embrace the need to build road, sewer, water and power infrastructure. The same goes for setting aside land through zoning that will allow companies to seriously consider moving or starting here.

As we have pointed out in previous columns, when the economy softens public agencies look for ways to raise revenue without raising taxes. Inevitably, this is when economic development moves to the top of the work agenda. While having their own economic development departments is a matter of size and preference, we believe a more regional approach to development is a better solution.

Our cities, ports and districts can truly influence economic development by addressing those underlying issues in our communities that make economic development efforts successful. When a business is looking to move, they’re not usually interested in waiting five years for the road plan to catch up or ten years before the water treatment facility will be completed. Business needs to be nimble and that means governments and communities need to anticipate those needs and be ready.

For the next three weeks, cities, ports and districts around the county will be reviewing the draft looking to find their organization in the plan. If they do, the next time the CREDC convenes the draft should become final and we can all get to the business of economic development with the knowledge that the plan is for all of us.