Job-generating projects offer hope as county struggles to recover

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

Published:

 

Top Clark County business stories of the third quarter

JULY

• Northwest Pipe reveals that it overstated past years’ profits by more than $37 million.

• Riverview Community Bank’s holding company raises $16.3 million through stock offering.

• Bingen-based Insitu wins $43.7 million contract to supply up to 56 unmanned Integrator planes to the U.S. military.

AUGUST

• Curt Warner sells his Vancouver Chevrolet franchise to Alan Webb.

• ClearAccess of Vancouver ranks as 66th-fastest-growing company in the U.S.

• BHP Billiton inks contract with Port of Vancouver, laying groundwork for a project that could bring 60 permanent jobs.

SEPTEMBER

• East Clark County group announces plans to launch its own economic development group, distinct from the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

• RS Medical plans to double its work force, adding 200 Vancouver jobs within two to three years.

• Clark County foreclosures surge, reflecting the end of government tax incentives that temporarily boosted home sales.

Reaching the end of a recession is like falling to the bottom of a hole. Even when you’re not falling anymore, you’re still stuck in a hole.

Economists now believe that the national recession officially ended more than a year ago, in June 2009. In Clark County we’ve got a lot of digging ahead of us before we’re back on the surface.

To extend the metaphor further: In the third quarter, the county got notice that shovels are on the way — but we still haven’t started digging our way out.

For the better part of a year the median home sale price has been close to $215,000, about 20 percent below the 2006 peak. Unemployment has been roughly 13 to 14 percent for months. Foreclosures remain high, with one in every 374 Clark County homes in some stage of the foreclosure process in September.

These problems are all related. Until job offers climb, unemployed homeowners will struggle to pay their mortgages. Until home prices rise, folks who can’t pay their home loans will continue to face foreclosures. Until foreclosures drop, home prices will stay depressed.

Jobs are the shovel that will let us dig our way out of this hole. And they will get here eventually.

In the first half of this year, Linear Technology started talks with Camas about eventually adding a second wafer fab to its campus. Farwest Steel agreed to buy Port of Vancouver land, where it plans to eventually bring 225 jobs.

That momentum continued in the third quarter. BHP Billiton and RS Medical announced plans that, between the two, could bring more than 260 new jobs.

There’s just one problem: none of the major job-generating projects announced this year will make a dent this year. Most will start hiring in 2012 or later.

Economists believe the national unemployment rate is likely to remain above 9 percent through 2011. For two years, Clark County’s jobless rate has, on average, been 3 percentage points above the nation’s. If that pattern continues, we have a long wait ahead of us before we start digging back up to the surface.