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Clark County looks ahead

By nearly all measures, Clark County has enjoyed back-to-back years of strong economic growth. The outlook is for more of the same in 2018.

“Even with expected increases in (commercial) loan interest rates, we see more growth ahead,” said Greg Seifert, board chair of the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC).

The CREDC is the county’s go-to organization for job retention and new job recruitment. This year, four new employers set up shop in the county with the help of development council staff. In addition, 15 existing employers launched successful expansion projects with CREDC assistance.

“These projects represent 500 new jobs and about $400 million in capital investment,” Seifert said. “The numbers from 2016 were much the same.”

Coming in 2018, Seifert said, is the new Home Depot QuoteCenter, which will occupy 45,000 square feet and employ 200 people inside Quad Industrial Park. QuoteCenter software (developed in Vancouver) is already being used by professional contractors placing large Home Depot orders. The expanded operation will serve customers throughout the U.S.

Eventually, the 22-acre Quad Industrial Park, just east of Grand Central on state Highway 14, is expected to include as much as 400,000 square feet of commercial and retail construction. Owner/developer is Vancouver-based Killian Pacific.

Measuring the economy

Business development activity, however, is one way to look at the local economy. Total job growth is another. Through October, county-based employers had added a total of 7,300 new jobs for a strong annual growth rate of 4.7 percent. That’s far better the statewide average of 2.3 percent or the U.S. annual job creation rate of just 0.6 percent.

The Washington Department of Revenue reported that total taxable retail sales in the county were up 10 percent in the second quarter over the same three months in 2016. Homebuilding, both single-family and multifamily, continued strong.

In his latest report, state labor analyst Scott Bailey said Clark County’s most recent unemployment rate of 4.4 percent was the lowest jobless rate since 1999.

He said the county is enjoying “rapid, diversified employment growth.”

Economic challenges

But while indicators are positive, the county faces some economic challenges, Seifert said.

“We have great assets in Clark College and Washington State University Vancouver and in our K-12 school districts, but we now are making a big push to look at (training) tracks other than just precollege,” he said.

This is in response to local employers who say they can not find enough qualified new employees in sectors such as manufacturing, construction and health care. Many of these jobs do not require a college degree.

“We are digging deeper into school districts for how we can address this issue,” Seifert said.

Also, lack of affordable housing continues to be a problem for the county and for the Portland-Vancouver Metro area. According to government reports, the rate of homelessness in the metro area has jumped 10 percent in the past two years with the housing crisis forcing low-income or unemployed people onto the streets.

Homebuilders are trying to catch up to the situation. Year-to-date through November, 1,581 permits have been issued for single-family home construction in Clark County. That is 136 more permits than issued in the same time frame in 2016. Another 389 permits have been issued for commercial project construction, also up from last year.

Aaron Helmes, a board member of the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Clark County, recently described 2017, as “another solid year” for the homebuilding industry. But land availability and a shortage of skilled laborers are challenges, he said. He expects another solid year in 2018 despite rising mortgage interest rates.

Mike Bomar, CREDC president and CEO, also sees another year of strong economic growth in Clark County.

“We are working to problem-solve with smaller- to medium-sized businesses that want to expand,” Bomar said.

Among those businesses are those combining construction planning and management with new efficient technologies. Bomar sees this as an emerging employment node for the region.

In the coming year, the CREDC, he said, will focus on the strategic areas of software, computers and electronics, metals and machinery, life sciences and clean tech. The council is also working to support expansion of professional services businesses, logistics and distribution, construction and healthcare.

National comparisons

New York-based financial technology company, SmartAsset, said Clark County – with a population of 450,000 – ranked No. 5 among all counties in Washington state for the most overall economic growth during the past four years. According to the research, the county saw business growth of 7.1 percent and new single-family home construction (as measured by new permits per 1,000 of existing homes) as second only to King County.

The Vancouver Waterfront Development is just one of numerous development projects currently going on in the Clark County area.
Courtesy of CREDC

2017 Clark County Economy at a Glance

New jobs: 7,300, up 4.7 percent
Taxable retail sales: Up 10 percent over 2016
Single-family home building permits: 1,581, up 9.4 percent
Home sales: 8,091, unchanged from 2016
Home median sale price: $325,000, up 12 percent