Reliable infrastructure key to growth

Investment in road, rail, utility, communications systems will attract businesses, create badly needed jobs

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2012 OUTLOOK

• Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife may decide whether to relocate offices from Vancouver to Ridgefield.

• The Port of Ridgefield expects to start constrution of its Pioneer Street rail overpass early in the year.

• The port will continue its cleanup of contaminated land and with developing plans to transform it into Miller’s Landing, a proposed mixed-use development.

We’ve grown accustomed to hearing the latest polls on consumer confidence and how important it is to the national economy.But when the consumer is a company looking to buy into a region — say Southwest Washington — do we inspire the confidence they need to make a purchase decision? Are we providing the right signals that we are serious about capturing economic opportunity? Is our call for jobs supported with a ready supply of fully served employment land?At the heart of the newly minted regional economic plan lies a call for continued investment in infrastructure.

In order for our area to successfully grow and attract new jobs, investment in our physical infrastructure (roads, rail lines, water, sewer, power, telecommunications and natural gas) is necessary, especially when it comes to serving key pieces of employment land.Scattered throughout our region are parcels of land that could one day host employers and the target industries we desire. However, too many of these parcels lack key pieces of basic infrastructure. Therefore, we can expect many employers to locate elsewhere, maybe even outside the state.Why? Because the time and expense to install new infrastructure is often beyond what businesses can afford, and other communities (our competition) may have suitable land already served and ready for construction.The good news is that ongoing infrastructure projects will pay dividends in the form of new jobs and economic activity in the future.If we want sustained economic vitality there is more work to be done. However, at a time when our municipalities are financially strapped, funding these infrastructure projects can be daunting if not outright infeasible.

The Columbia River Economic Development Council, Regional Transportation Council, the ports, the regional sewer coalition and others are looking for innovative ways to address our infrastructure needs and control costs. Interjurisdictional coordination is necessary to fully serve employment lands and coordinate improvements so that one agency’s investment doesn’t languish for lack of another’s.

New technologies and service delivery options are also being explored.

The key to implementing the regional plan is to recognize that we are building a new economy — where businesses have new and different expectations of the communities they choose to locate in. The policies and strategies of the past may not serve us well going forward.Just like our businesses, our communities, institutions and agencies must adapt if we are to be successful and relevant in the emerging knowledge-based economy.Winning communities will be those that prepare for success by making the necessary investments.

We can work and be a strong, sustainable community, one that serves the interests of the community, environment and economy, or we can settle for whatever happens and wait for someone to fix the situation for us.When we decide to build high-quality communities and invest in infrastructure, we demonstrate a strong belief in the potential of our people, community and economy.

Our confidence in the value we create and offer will inspire confidence in others, and that’s the surest way to renew our economy and put people back to work.