Our community’s oldest industry — river commerce — also provides hope for economic success in the long-term future. It’s interesting how high-tech companies in the past decade or so have generated waves of optimism in Clark County, and understandably so, but the original purpose of European settlement here more than a century and a half ago continues to flourish. We’ll always be a hub for port activity. River trade, with a deep-water port linking to global markets, will always help define the local economy.It’s all about jobs, now during an economic crisis more than ever. That’s why local residents should be excited about what’s happening at local ports (which count among their duties being landlords of industrial sites). We hasten to add that what follows are long-term job projections, preliminary estimates at best. Still, they generate meaningful hope. A new $5.75 million state grant is paying for industrial expansion at the Port of Vancouver that could result in up to 500 jobs over the next several years at 58-acre Centennial Industrial Park. At the Port of Camas-Washougal, ground was broken Thursday on a $2.5 million project that could bring 300 to 400 jobs to the new 120-acre Steigerwald Commerce Center. At the Port of Ridgefield this summer, a 5.6-acre parcel was sold to an industrial group that could bring 160 jobs, although it’s unknown how many workers will be relocated from other sites and how many jobs will be newly created.
Again, it’s too early to celebrate how many hundreds of jobs these port projects will yield, but let’s not sweat the small stuff. For now, it’s obvious that local ports and economic developers refuse to hunker down and wait for the economic recovery to gain speed. Port officials know that acting now, turning industrial sites into shovel-ready offerings for commercial tenants, is crucial.
The ports aren’t acting independently. They’re getting ample help from the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association. These kinds of partnerships are critical to enhancing and diversifying the local economy.
At the Port of Vancouver, there looms a bonus for prospective companies — perhaps high-tech manufacturing companies — that will be examining the Centennial Industrial Park. As Aaron Corvin explained in a recent Columbian story, the site offers a front-row view of a 154-acre wetland, a habitat for waterfowl, songbirds and other wildlife. It’s called the Columbia River Mitigation Bank, the old Rufener dairy farm, where grading and contouring work is augmenting the natural setting. The grant will allow the port to improve the industrial site with roadways, sidewalks, utilities and landscaping.
Similar work will be under way soon at the Port of Camas-Washougal, where the first phase will open up 30 to 40 acres and 2,500 linear feet of new streets for ready-to-build employers. The port’s industrial track record is impressive. Already it has opened 430 acres to companies, and the vacancy rate is just 2 percent. As with the Port of Vancouver, the new Camas-Washougal project will be near an area of significant natural beauty, the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
The impacts of all this economic development by local ports quickly and broadly transcend the ports themselves. Countless affiliated businesses, subcontractors and transportation firms will benefit from the increased activity. Local tax revenues will grow. And then there’s that No. 1 priority for the local economy: Well-paying jobs.