The good, the bad & the ugly

John McDonagh

The state perspective at the lunch panel will be discussed by Bret Bertolin, senior economist for the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

What Bonnie and I landed on seems to work pretty well in discussing the local economy with all due respect to Clint Eastwood and the spaghetti westerns. Southwest Washington is dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly.

The ugly

The ugly issues having a dramatic effect on the business community include:

Access to capital – many are frozen out of traditional lines of financing as the pendulum continues its swing drastically after years of far lower standards.

Excessive regulation – the prime example being storm water management as dictated by the Washington Dept. of Ecology, who has implemented standards more draconian than anywhere else in the country.

Foreclosures – creating inventories of single-family residential, and, in the retail and commercial space, keeping prices at cripplingly low levels.

Poverty – those living in poverty or finding themselves homeless as a result of the economy the last three or four years.

Each of these has a debilitating effect that will color the business community for years to come.

The bad

A significant condition with a terrible dampening effect on business is the constant polarization around virtually every community discussion: creating and maintaining our parks & recreation projects; the rebuilding of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC); the funding of public transit in the county; even funding for education. When community discussions are characterized by such polarity it’s virtually impossible to gain consensus. It is in working toward solutions that we should focus our efforts. Instead, too much of our energy is spent in countering the “other side.” Not productive at all.

The good

After the bad and the ugly, I’m sure some are asking whether there is anything good to discuss. We came up with a fairly robust list, across a variety of business industries showing strong growth and recovery (though in our opinion, not exhaustive).

To find such a cross section, one only needs look at the Business Growth Award finalists featured on page one and page four of today’s Journal. Retail, consulting, hi-tech manufacturing, professional services, brick & mortar and internet based and recreation – all of these sectors represented by a business with strong growth in 2011.

Finally, we cannot forget companies like Far West Steel, Fisher Investment and PeaceHealth – companies that have chosen to move their operations here, bringing sorely needed jobs to the region. 

As we consider the good, the bad and the ugly that is our business community, we not only need to identify the bad & ugly, but it is important to form specific plans as a business community to address these in a positive and results-oriented manner. It also behooves us to look at the good sectors and learn from them. We need to take the ideas that make sense into practice and continue to create a collective reality that assures we never have a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

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