It’s been a year

John McDonagh

Tis the season. With nostalgia rampant this time of the year, a look back at the past 12 months is almost mandatory. Many prognosticators believe such Freudian behavior is counter-productive. Rather, they believe businesses should be looking to the future, setting our sights on a target that not only gives us purpose, but gives purpose to our employees, vendors and customers as well.

Generally, I agree with them, though, I also believe there is great context and perspective we can gain by taking note of our previous accomplishments, the challenges we met and the opportunities that remain. So I’ll save the future gazing for an upcoming column.

2015 was by most measures a great year for business. Jobs are back to pre-recession levels. Professional services companies – whether in the mergers and acquisition area of law or the geo-planning end of developments – are over capacity with plenty of new projects in the pipeline. Retailers are looking at a year where sales over the previous 12 months have shown increases well into the double-digits for Clark County and Vancouver.

Other indicators of the sort of year it has been include the Journal’s own Business Growth Awards and Top Projects event.

Held in April, this year’s Business Growth Awards featured the most businesses in our five award categories since before the economic downturn of 2008. In July, for the first time ever Top Projects included nine projects in excess of $10 million in construction cost – coving all three categories of residential, commercial and public works projects. And that is just the lead projects.

Another key indicator of the kind of year 2015 has been is the activity in the ports of the region. Documented in the Journal’s Ports of Progress series earlier this fall, each of the ports have active projects that will increase access to the Columbia River for the public, as well as open up critical lands to help attract needed employers to the region.

We saw continued expansion of the beverage industry in Clark County with the opening of breweries, brew pubs and taprooms. Wineries continue to proliferate and the distillers are just emerging. While the sector is a great addition to the local economy, it also serves as an attraction for visitors – whether brought to town for a conference or just attracted by something like the Brewcouver Passport.

Challenges and opportunities were in no short supply in 2015. The question is whether we’ll actually gather the gumption going forward to tackle those which remain or as the pundits are keen to say, “kick the can down the road.”

Two key challenges we face in the coming months are planning for buildable lands and getting permits reviewed and approved in a reasonable amount time for land already zoned.

The permitting of projects has slowed again around the region and while jurisdictions are aware of the concerns and beginning to address it, if allowed to drag on for any length of time before improving, local development could come to a screeching halt.

Identifying buildable lands along with a sound Growth Management Plan update is a challenge that has garnered a lot of public debate this past year. The process of updating the plan is supposed to be wrapped up in 2016, and we must demand that it include the appropriate infrastructure needs to make lands buildable. It should also include a plan to build that infrastructure concurrent with development.

Now, 2015 is the year that was. Let’s make 2016 the year to remember.