Who will lead our leaders?




Should we panic, or should we celebrate?

Clark County is in the midst of a major leadership shake-up. Washington State University Vancouver, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Identity Clark County, the Port of Vancouver and the city of Camas will all get new leaders within a single 12-month period.

If you want steady hands to stay the course as we try to navigate a period of perpetually high unemployment, you might say the timing couldn’t be worse. It couldn’t be better, though, if you think that it’s time for some fresh blood to help us rebuild our economy and prepare for better times ahead.

To recap:

• Larry Paulson is leaving his job as executive director of the Port of Vancouver in 2012, after 20 years with the government district. He championed the just-ended Columbia River deepening, helped bring the about $150 million in rail upgrades that are crucial to many businesses in our region, and worked to turn land vacated by aluminum plants into a source of employment once again.

• Hal Dengerink, the only chancellor Washington State University Vancouver has ever known, announced Tuesday that he’s resigning after a period of poor health. Under his leadership, WSUV grew into a four-year campus with robust academic offerings, including engineering programs that local tech companies have been pleading for for years.

• Bart Phillips has left the Columbia River Economic Development Council, after helping to recruit or retain thousands of local jobs in his 11 years helming the nonprofit that helped convince SEH America to grow in Vancouver, not back home in Japan.

• Gretchen Metcalf has retired from Identity Clark County, a nonprofit that was central to downtown Vancouver revitalization efforts and championed the construction of the Hilton Vancouver Washington and Convention Center.

Clark County residents should be proud of the accomplishments of each of these leaders, whose work undeniably helped bring jobs and growth to this community. Paulson, Dengerink, Phillips, Metcalf and others across the community have each worked hard and made strong gains within their own spheres of influence.

Who’s been leading the leaders? Who can we say is responsible for setting broad economic goals for Clark County? Who can we hold accountable when those goals are not achieved?

We want the new leaders of WSUV, the Port of Vancouver, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and Identity Clark County to bring some of the same strengths as the people they’re replacing. They’ll need to understand taxes and incentives, politics and policies, how to pay for big ideas, and the pressures and needs of the business community. That’s a tall order, and we’ll be fortunate to get people who can do all that and continue the traditions of their predecessors.

Let’s dream big and hope for more. We need a public leader who’s willing to take risks, set the agenda, and help write Clark County’s next success story.

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