CREDC touts its role in job creation

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

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Clark County’s chief economic development agency reported Wednesday that companies it works with invested about $120 million in land purchases, and building and equipment improvements this year, creating or maintaining 941 jobs in the region.

“I believe we are doing a good job of creating jobs in the community,” Bart Phillips, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, said to more than 130 attendees of the nonprofit organization’s annual meeting at the Vancouver Convention Center.

However, Phillips said, the tens of millions in land, building and equipment investments, while beneficial in many ways — including schools and local governments that benefit from the rise in value of property-tax rolls and the increase in sales-tax revenues — don’t necessarily add up to large job creation.

In fact, the county’s level of economic development activity remains relatively low compared with previous years, Phillips said. What’s more, the county must find ways to help an increasing number of people who will lose their unemployment benefits and who will face home foreclosures as the county struggles with a jobless rate of 13 percent as of October. The county is going to “have some real issues with unemployment” for some time to come, Phillips said.

Commerical real estate, computer chips

Wednesday’s event also featured two speakers who addressed the prospects of two different industries that are relevant to Clark County: the market for commercial real estate, which includes office towers and industrial parks, and the market for computer chips, which are installed in everything from smart phones to high-definition camcorders.

Casey Davidson, managing director of major commercial real estate brokerage firm Holliday Fenoglio Fowler, described a cautious market filled with lenders who are asking more questions as they examine loan requests for certain projects. He said “pre-leased” projects with multiple tenants are winning construction loans.

Robert Bernardi is chief operating officer and president of Kokusai Semiconductor Equipment Corp., which has 30 employees at Vancouver’s Columbia Tech Center. He said global computer chip sales are on the rise after seeing a historic decline from 2007 to 2009.

This year will see $301 billion in worldwide computer chip sales, up 32 percent from 2009, according to Bernardi. He predicted sales will increase by 6 percent to $319 billion in 2011. “We’re on an up cycle right now,” he said.

Recent criticism

Last week, the Port of Vancouver reduced its financial support for the CREDC, as port leaders signaled disappointment in the nonprofit organization’s efforts to create jobs.

The CREDC was successful in helping 16 businesses either locate, expand or retain a portion of their operations in the county in 2010. That’s up from seven successful cases in 2009 and five in 2008.

The 941 jobs that CREDC’s work created or maintained in 2010 is up from 167 jobs in 2009 and 104 in 2008.

However, Clark County has major trouble spots ahead, Phillips said, including about 1,000 people per month losing their unemployment benefits through winter.

Meanwhile, data show claims for jobless benefits in the county remain high in the office/administrative support and construction sectors.

And it’s an understatement to say the overall job market is tough: There are 31,440 unemployed people in Southwest Washington, where Clark County harbors most of the population. Total job vacancies in the region: 1,999.

Phillips said these are all reasons for human service and other organizations to prepare response teams in areas including food, health care and housing. They are also reasons for the county to continue to invest in economic development, expand entrepreneurship and to create jobs through public works, Phillips said.