In Our View: Developing Land for Jobs

Local shortage of industrial acreage could be addressed next year



Two seemingly unrelated parcels of land together bode well for economic development in Clark County. One is the site of a former landfill in the Orchards area, owned by Clark County. The other is a former farm site in the Vancouver Lake lowlands owned by the Port of Vancouver.Still don’t see the similarity? Well, that’s understandable; each parcel was described in separate stories in Wednesday’s Columbian. But the most powerful of several similarities can be wrapped up in one four-letter word (or three letters as Joe Biden infamously intoned in 2008): Jobs.

And that’s great news in Clark County, which needs more shovel-ready properties that can attract everyone’s BFF in job creation: employers.

Another similarity is size. The Orchards property is 46 acres. The port property is 58 acres.

The former is part of the old Leichner Landfill property, a 120-acre site purchased by the county in 2011 for $1.5 million. Much of the land is probably destined for light use by the public — perhaps hiking trails or solar energy generation — because beneath the landfill cap there percolates a stew of garbage and residue, in fact, a half-century’s worth. But 46 acres are outside the former landfill and are zoned light industrial, which is a green-light word of sorts in a community that for decades has been too reliant on residential development.

The port property is part of the Centennial Industrial Park, and it’s much further along in the development process than the county’s Orchards site. Port commissioners on Tuesday awarded a $5.3 million contract to Rotschy Inc. of Vancouver to install infrastructure at what used to be the old Rufener dairy farm. The development work — funded by a state grant — will last about eight months. After utilities, sidewalks, landscaping and streets are installed, seven buildable lots will be available for manufacturing, warehouse and office use. Port officials believe up to 500 family-wage jobs can be located on the site.

And adjacent to this site are 50 more acres targeted for development in the second phase of the Centennial Industrial Park.

So, these two properties aren’t so unrelated after all, and the timing — poised hopefully on the brink of an economic recovery — couldn’t be better for the local economy. As we pointed out in a Jan. 10 editorial, Clark County has a severe shortage of “land for jobs.” In response to that need, the Columbia River Economic Development Council has embarked on a vigorous program to increase the inventory of shovel-ready land.

A study earlier this year revealed that the metro area in Portland had 56 large industrial sites ready for company relocations and expansion; developers could start building on nine of the 53 sites in as few as six months. In Clark County, though, only 13 such sites were available in January, and permitting complexities could delay construction for a year or longer.

There’s hope in Orchards and along the river, however. Two properties are emerging as examples of how old properties can serve new purposes.