East county economic group gets green light

Ex-mayor of Camas says he’s pursuing several business leads

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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One day after Camas and Washougal councilors gave it their blessing, the Port of Camas-Washougal Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the formation of an east Clark County economic development body Tuesday night.

The Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association is expected to begin work on or around July 1. Former Camas Mayor Paul Dennis and his private consulting firm, Cascade Planning Group, were selected to head the soon-to-be formed organization.

The Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association is expected to aid Camas, Washougal and the Port of Camas-Washougal in attracting new business to east Clark County and retaining businesses that have already established roots there.

“I believe this is probably the single largest thing any of us have done in east Clark County in terms of plotting a path forward,” Washougal Mayor Sean Guard said Tuesday.

‘Solid’ prospects

Under current proposals, the Port of Camas-Washougal would pay the economic development association $100,000 annually. Camas and Washougal will each pitch in $50,000 annually.

Dennis resigned his post as Camas mayor on May 31 to head the economic group. Since resigning, he has begun making business contacts on a voluntary basis for his new position. As of Tuesday, he had already generated eight or nine leads — half of them he described as “solid” — for east Clark County, he said.

In the ensuing weeks, the association, along with representatives of both cities and the port, will need to set up bylaws and draw up a strategic plan. Such a plan would define “what we’re looking to achieve, not just in the short-term ... but five, six, seven, 10 years from now,” Dennis said.

Washougal Councilman Dave Shoemaker raised concerns during Monday’s meeting about the association forming without an evaluation plan in place. An evaluation plan would serve as a checklist to determine the organization’s success.

“It’s the key without which you don’t know what you’ve got,” Shoemaker said, “and the chances of getting something useful are between slim and none.”

Dennis agreed with the need for “measurable benchmarks,” but disagreed with Shoemaker’s suggestion objectives should have been written down before the association was formally created. Doing so without the company in charge’s input, Dennis said, would raise risks that objectives would not be reachable.

“Everybody agrees on what needs to be done,” Dennis said. “The disagreement is on the timing.”

Camas acting Mayor Scott Higgins added, “We’re confident the details will get worked out. Any job that comes to our community is a benefit.”

Camas voted unanimously for the economic development association. Washougal approved the organization 5-2, with Shoemaker and Michael Delavar opposing it.

Shoemaker and Delavar both raised concerns about the appearance of impropriety raised by Dennis’ hiring. Dennis and other officials have dismissed these concerns, noting he stopped attending meetings about the proposed economic development group once he realized he might be interested in the position.