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Defending our competitive advantages, pursuing new opportunities

By Mike Bomar, CREDC President

It is an exciting time to be in Economic Development in Southwest Washington.  We currently enjoy strong partnerships between the public and private sectors, along with positive momentum and collaboration among the various business organizations that represent Clark County’s key industries.  Thanks to the excellent vision and strategic investments of our predecessors, we are also positioned to attract a significant amount of new investment into our area in the coming years and beyond.  In order to ensure that we realize this potential success, policymakers and business leaders need to focus on three things: protecting our competitive advantages, capturing new growth opportunities for both existing and prospective companies, and keeping our eye on the future.

Relative to other U.S. counties and many international locations, the low cost of power in Southwest Washington is a huge competitive advantage for businesses, particularly those who are high energy consumers such as the semiconductor industry and metal fabricators. Clark County’s average commercial electric rates, for example, are 42% lower than the national average and 48% lower than San Jose, CA, while on the international front Clark County’s industrial electric rates are 47% lower than Germany, 50% lower than Japan, and 61% lower than the UK.  The savings garnered by these low power costs allows us to attract and grow companies that value quality of place and believe in investing in their employee experience.  Beyond providing better wages and protecting the environment, these types of companies also have a stronger indirect impact on growing the service sector and local small businesses.  Additional incentive programs have also been enacted that allow us to attract and retain these economic development diamonds.  Among them are the High Tech Business & Occupation (B&O) tax credit for research and development spending, the High Tech Sales & Use Deferral/Waiver, and the B&O tax exemption for some food processors.  Far from being loopholes, these incentives create a net positive for our area in the types of jobs they attract and the increased impact those jobs have on our economy and on tax revenues.

When considering new industry opportunities for the area, we look closely at our existing structural advantages as well as how those new industries could complement existing clusters.  One growth industry that appears to be very well-suited for Clark County is advanced composites.  Composites bring lighter, more durable materials to products that make them faster, safer and overall more efficient.  This industry encompasses a variety of applications, and here in Washington we see strong supply chain opportunities in the aerospace, defense, automotive and marine industry sectors.  In an effort to support the growth of the advanced composites sector locally, the CREDC traveled to Singapore in November to market Clark County to composite companies looking to relocate or expand in the Northwest, and to hear from international industry leaders regarding composite trends and best practices.  Other local endeavors include our education leaders considering new programs to train a skilled workforce to support the industry and examining ways we can take part in improving the lifecycle impacts of these materials through advancements in composite recycling technologies.

Despite the great activity and growth initiatives taking place in Clark County, we cannot afford to be satisfied with the status quo.  Our responsibility is to continually focus on the future to enable prosperity that we ourselves may not live to see.  This includes ensuring an adequate supply of land for jobs that is ready to serve the types of industries we want to attract, promoting and creating sustainable economic development policies and tax structures, and creating visions that can withstand the forces of politics and short-lived trends.  Our success will depend on public and private partners being willing to invest in each other and to work together to address the challenges and opportunities of the future.