Corporate openness beneficial

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

Published:

 
photoCourtney Sherwood

The Columbian exists to give you the information you need to make informed decisions about your life in this community. But sometimes the businesses we cover would rather not let the word out.

Take Hewlett-Packard. When HP arrived in Clark County in 1979, it talked openly about its plans for an east Vancouver electronics plant. And for decades the company designated local employees to keep the public informed about its plans.

That ended in 2005, when HP laid off Beth Quartarolo, its Washington public affairs manager.

“I saw tremendous value in the reputation that HP had because we were a good corporate citizen, we were involved in the community and we were open with the community,” said Quartarolo, who is now communications director for the Oregon Primary Care Association.

“HP, overall, was a good employer,” Quartarolo said. “But my personal philosophy is that you’re as upfront and public as you can be, not only with the media, but with your customers and with the public.”

Yet when reporter Gordon Oliver asked the company about its Vancouver plans, he got the same boilerplate answer HP has given us for years: “We cannot comment on site-specific activities or number of employees.”

I can’t see the advantage of this policy. The company has more than 300,000 employees at dozens of sites worldwide. It’s not as though competitor Dell is going to change its product line-up if HP employs 600 instead of 1,200 in Vancouver, or if its local workers are based at one address instead of another.

Keeping mum doesn’t keep HP’s plans out of the headlines. Building permits show that HP plans to move in with Vancouver-based Nautilus, and that it is refurbishing space in its new building to house 793 workers, as Oliver reported in Thursday’s paper. What HP lost was an opportunity to explain what this all means.

The merger of PeaceHealth and Southwest Washington Medical Center provides a sharp contrast to HP’s approach. The two private nonprofit medical companies on Wednesday cemented plans to merge, clearing the way for PeaceHealth to move its headquarters here from Bellevue.

Southwest and PeaceHealth have policies of being upfront about their plans. Just hours after the papers were signed, Southwest spokesman Ken Cole called reporter Aaron Corvin to share the news. Officials with both organizations returned phone calls, agreed to interviews, and Corvin pulled together a comprehensive story for Thursday’s paper.

We would have had the story even if they hadn’t called, because we track the paperwork that hospitals submit to the state.

“We value communication at every level, including our employees, our foundation and key donors, and the community,” Cole said. “They need to know what we stand for. ”

Major businesses’ actions affect employment levels, neighborhoods, property values and the health of Clark County’s economy. It’s disappointing when they decide that this community is not as important to them as they are to us.

Courtney Sherwood is The Columbian’s business and features editor. Reach her at 360-735-4561 or courtney.sherwood@columbian.com