Preserving land, creating jobs

Clark County could do better at attracting commuters to careers in Washington

H. Roger Qualman and Garret Harper
are, respectively, executive vice president and real estate salesperson with NAI Norris, Beggs and Simpson.

It was a simpler time. The site was for sale, zoning and utilities were available, the municipality was cooperative, and demand for land seemed to be solid. It now seems so long ago.

The site referred to is the Zimmerly property in Ridgefield – 236 flat acres near the freeway interchange, zoned industrial and, at the time, used for growing potatoes. Taiwan Semiconductor looked at the site in 1993 as the preferred site in Clark County when they first came to town. It had everything: convenient access to Interstate 5, flat topography, in the path of growth. But, for reasons that are no longer important, Taiwan Semiconductor, now called WaferTech, chose an alternative location in Camas, and the rest is history. A billion dollar investment and 1,000 jobs were created in Camas, with room to expand.

Back to Ridgefield: the Zimmerly property was eventually sold to Schuck Development, a Colorado Springs land development company. NAI Norris, Beggs, & Simpson was marketing the property for sale, so local developers had a chance to buy it. But it took someone from 1,000 miles away to see the potential for this site. That property went under contract in 2000, and the sale closed in 2003, along with the sale of a 58-acre parcel to Dollar Tree Stores for their Pacific Northwest Regional Distribution Center. Subsequent sales to United Natural Foods, Hinton Development, Quail Homes and Suburban Door have followed. What is left is the more expensive commercial property facing I-5 and a couple industrial sites.

Across the freeway, US Foods, Pacific Crest Cabinets, Detroit Diesel, Corwin Beverage and Bonar Plastics have found homes. And, last week, the Port of Ridgefield announced the sale of 75 acres of their property to Southwest Washington Medical Center for a new, campus-style health care facility. Note that all this has happened in only a few years.

Today, sites similar to Zimmerly, now part of the larger Union Ridge project, cannot be found anywhere along I-5 between Centralia and Albany, Ore. The land rush for industrial sites has effectively grabbed up almost all the sites appropriate for distribution of goods. The more product that comes from Asia through the ports of Vancouver and Portland, the more pressure on the few remaining sites. Vancouver may take some pride in its remaining inventory of industrial property, including good sites at Birtcher Business Park-Vancouver, Sifton Industrial Park, the Port of Vancouver and what is left in Ridgefield. However, the pressure on industrial lands continues unabated.

From our perspective, the need to provide land for job creation centers has never been greater. Currently, 60,000 people commute daily to jobs in Oregon; it’s probably that most of them would prefer to work in Washington and avoid Oregon taxes and the commute if they could find similar work here. CREDC did a survey of those commuters and found their demographic to be highly educated, middle and upper management and technical in orientation. If we could find appropriate employment in Clark County, it would go a long way toward solving the I-5 bridge issue, along with many more of the growth management issues with which we deal.

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