WEDA Summer Conference: Create the Spaces You Would Want to Visit

Brittany Bagent, Director of Strategy

The Washington Economic Development Association (WEDA) convened its annual summer conference in beautiful Prosser, Washington, back in August. WEDA aims to be the voice of economic development throughout Washington State, which was evident by the packed house representing Associate Development Organizations like the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC), staff from many cities and ports, private sector consultants and state officials.   

While the world of economic development is competitive in nature, the overall tone of the conference was positive and collaborative, with a resounding message that we all share one common belief – we’re stronger together. For example, we heard about how Yakima’s “brain gain” initiatives – which help retain and recruit competitive talent in the region – benefit the Port of Benton’s Vintner’s Village by driving more visitors to the area, and how FIRST Washington’s rural STEM programs feed directly into ensuring that Seattle’s workforce pipeline remains competitive.

We value this annual opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and ask thoughtful questions that help our communities grow and succeed.

Rebecca Kennedy, Long Range Planner, City of Vancouver, and I had the opportunity to present on creative placemaking. We were proud to share the work and initiatives that make Clark County a leader in the state providing a wide range of options for its residents and employees to be involved in placemaking efforts.

Creating quality places is one of the three strategic goals in the Clark County Comprehensive Economic Development Plan. Why are economic development practitioners throwing their weight behind placemaking efforts?  Because companies need talent and talent want to live and work in unique places. By supporting our public sector partners and prioritizing the effort of Creating Place responding to our community needs, we’re setting ourselves up for success in recruiting quality companies and talent to the region.

There are a number of active placemaking initiatives throughout Clark County, including: envisioning a new identity for Battle Ground via their “Navigators” project, enlivening spaces with community murals in Vancouver, creating multi-modal transportation options and programming unique events (Couve Cycle, anyone?).  Additionally, City of Vancouver staff have several high-impact, low-cost programs in their toolbox, including a pre-lease program where city staff from all permitting departments help businesses determine exactly what they need for tenant improvements, an adaptive reuse program that supports redevelopment and tenanting with a deep understanding of generating long term value and food truck assistance that activates empty parking lots and provides highly desirable amenities for employees around town.

A key takeaway from the conference is seeing how the strategies we’re implementing in Clark County can be emulated in communities across the state, which resonated with the WEDA attendees. “What should we focus on first?” one participant asked. Our answer? Create the space you’d want to visit, then we’ll visit too.

If you’d like to hear more about the important role quality of place plays in differentiating our region and why Creating Place is a strategic priority for CREDC, join us at our Fall Luncheon on October 16 from 11AM – 1PM at Warehouse 23. Register here.