East county cities get look at draft agreement

They are working with local port on economic development group

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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The Port of Camas-Washougal has prepared a draft of an agreement with the cities of Camas and Washougal to create and finance an economic development association charged with building employment and attracting jobs in the east Clark County cities.

The draft intergovernmental agreement, presented Monday in a joint work session of the two city councils and the port commission, sets the annual costs to the three governments at no more than $200,000. The Port of Camas-Washougal would pay half that cost, and the two cities would split the remainder equally.

The new Camas/Washougal Economic Development Association Inc., or CWEDA, will be established ultimately as a nonprofit association. Its board would include the mayor and one council member from each city, as well as a port commissioner. Staff members would be hired as contractors using professional services agreements.

The deal now heads to the Camas and Washougal city councils on June 6 for approval, with final approval by the Port of Camas-Washougal Board of Commissioners the following day.

Earlier this month, the port selected Camas Mayor Paul Dennis to serve as the organization’s economic development director. Dennis’ consulting firm, Cascade Planning Group, will be the private service provider, with consultant E.D. Hovee in a supporting role. Dennis has resigned as Camas mayor effective May 31.

At the Monday work session, port officials suggested lists of “performance measures” and “deliverables” for the new organization. It would be measured by increases in direct and indirect business revenues; job creation; payroll and household income; and tax payments. The document says that benchmarks would be established by the organization’s governing board.

Washougal council member David Shoemaker criticized the document’s lack of specifics, saying measures for job growth should be established in advance of the contract.

“The way this is structured, there is no guarantee that any economic development will take place,” Shoemaker said. “I don’t care what they do, I care about what they deliver.”

Camas Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Higgins said following the meeting that he expects the details to firm up once the organization gets to work. Higgins said he believes the accountability concerns are addressed by the fact that the agreement allows an annual review by each of the three funding bodies.

“It’s not a blank check,” he said. “We know we get to check in every year.”

The common sentiment among the political leaders was an urgency to create more jobs to rebuild the area’s battered economy. “We recognize that economic development is something we can do better, and we should do better,” Higgins said.