Team effort aids economy

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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Tough times can draw us closer together, uniting our community behind a common vision of the future. Or adversity can tear us apart, as we vie for access to scarce resources.

When east Clark County governments decided to set up their own economic development group earlier this year, some observers feared that the “everyone for himself” approach might win out. But leaders of the county’s older and more established Columbia River Economic Development Council say that the new group could ultimately help efforts to make Clark County’s economy more robust. Now the big questions are what comes next — and who will get us there.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said his city still backs the CREDC, despite its support of the east county group.

The new East County Economic Development Agency will focus on the specific interests of Camas, Washougal and the Camas-Washougal port district, because those jurisdictions are too small to have employees dedicated exclusively to the economy. After all, Clark County, Vancouver and the Port of Vancouver all have staff dedicated to economic development, Higgins said Wednesday at a gathering of CREDC supporters and Columbian staff.

“There’s opportunity for everybody to participate in these efforts,” he said.

Brian Wolfe, a Port of Vancouver commissioner and a founder of the CREDC, said he agrees. In its early days, the Columbia River Economic Development Council brought many local governments and community groups together to try, collectively, to bolster Clark County’s economy.

Wooing international investors, developing infrastructure and improving access to higher education are among the goals the CREDC has set for the coming decade. No one group can do all this on its own, Wolfe said. “But working together, you can do it.”

A few months back, local leaders were less unified. Some quietly grumbled about whether east Clark County was getting the attention it needed from the CREDC. Others whispered about Bart Phillips’ communication style. Phillips, who led the agency for more than a decade, resigned in May after he and his board failed to see eye to eye about the direction the group should take.

That turmoil is waning.

“Instead of everybody trying to be a quarterback, we have a team,” said Tim Schauer, president of Vancouver-based MacKay & Sposito and CREDC board member.

But teams need coaches.

Though local agencies and businesses have got many capable leaders, none have the willpower, charisma and clout to unite more than a dozen business, nonprofit and government groups with a stake in Clark County’s economy.

Eric Fuller, chairman of the CREDC board and president of Vancouver-based Eric Fuller & Associates, believes the next head of the countywide economic development group will be able to unite those team members behind a better game plan. “Our next leader will be CEO caliber,” Fuller said.

Let’s hope that he or she is also an inspiration.

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