Recognize county’s clout

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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Radio station AM 1550 broadcasts a conservative talk message that is sure to polarize listeners and send some scuttling to the other end of the dial. But there’s a subtext we all should tune in to: Clark County is an economic force to be reckoned with, and it’s time we recognize that fact.

The station, which had been broadcasting old-time crooners, on April 4 switched formats to become “AM 1550, Vancouver’s Talk Station.”

“We’ll eventually have some local programming, local talk, high school sports, things like that,” said David Saxe, general manager for Pamplin Media, which owns the station. Until then, it’s airing syndicated shows, including several that focus on Washington politics.

Since radio waves don’t stop at state borders, Pamplin Media’s decision to target Clark County might seem odd. We’re just one fifth of the greater metro area, by population. Why ignore the other 80 percent?

My answer: Well, they often ignore us. And when they do, they’re making a big mistake.

When executives at Portland-based Pamplin Media look at their neighbor to the north, they don’t see the bedroom community suburb that some Oregonians imagine Clark County to be. They see a large population base, a developed business community, and opportunities to make money.

After all, 425,363 lived here in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

If this county were a city instead of one part of a larger metropolitan area, it would be the 40th largest city in the U.S. (Portland is the 29th largest city, with 583,776 residents, according to census estimates.)

Clark County is slightly more populous than Atlanta, Ga., proper. We’ve got nearly twice the population of Reno, Nev., and more residents than live in the greater Reno metro area.

Yes, our unemployment rate is too high, but 125,000 people hold jobs that are based in this county, including 12,000 who commute here from Oregon. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Portland-based Pamplin Media isn’t focusing on oft-overlooked Clark County to be nice. This was a business decision to target a community that’s home to 425,400 people.

“Portland already has plenty of news,” Saxon said. “We will do a better job for Southwest Washington.”

It’s time for our local leaders to adopt that mantra: “We will do a better job for Southwest Washington.”

Vancouver and Clark County are a crucial part of the greater Portland area. We work with Oregonians, do business with them, are related to a few. But our strengths, challenges and needs are also different, at times.

Our schools and roads are better, our jobless rate is worse, our tax structure is completely different. Regional leaders, who mostly hail from Oregon, sometimes forget about us altogether. Even when we’re invited to the table, the unique needs of Southwest Washington often go unheard.

It’s time for the rest of the region to tune in to our importance when they make plans for the metro region, and for our leaders to broadcast the truth about Clark County’s overlooked clout.

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