In Our View: Powerful Partners

Port, city of Vancouver strengthen economic development efforts

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Respective leaders of the Port of Vancouver and the city learned a powerful lesson about teamwork a few years ago when Farwest Steel Corp. decided to build a steel fabrication plant here. The port and the city, along with other parties, helped Farwest obtain $48 million in federally subsidized financing for the equipment and building that's now seen on the southeast corner of Lower River Road and Northwest Gateway Avenue, on land the company bought from the port.Farwest CEO Patrick Eagen said obtaining that federal assistance was "significant in allowing this project to proceed."

Formalizing that port-city partnership makes perfect sense, and that's what the two entities are doing with an interlocal agreement. The plan was unanimously approved by port commissioners last Tuesday and is expected to be approved by Vancouver city councilors on Nov. 5.

This might sound like more bureaucracy, but to the contrary, the interlocal agreement will keep the port and the city singing from the same page of the economic development hymnal. When a business decides to relocate at the port, or elsewhere in the city in ways that would affect the port, then the partnership pact will simplify and streamline that procedure.

As Aaron Corvin reported in a Thursday Columbian story, the port and the city will define how they'll work together in such ways as designating a lead agency on the project. Each entity will know how the business development project is being paid for, and when completion of the project can be expected. Port of Vancouver Executive Director Todd Coleman and Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes will be the captains of the collaboration.

During these worst of economic times, the city and the port have worked aggressively — but in many cases independently — to improve infrastructure and recruit businesses. The port, with its sprawling rail improvements, and the city, with its waterfront redevelopment project, are positioned for rapid success during an economic recovery. A formal agreement will strengthen the partnership in ways that will impress clients.

Business prospects don't have time to bounce back and forth between independent port and city officials. That costs money. But when those out-of-towners see a well-organized local team working quickly and powerfully — as happened with the Farwest project — then they can more easily meet their own deadlines. This win-win outcome produces a new home at the port for the business, and new jobs and tax revenues for the city.

The interlocal agreement is expected to last for five years. The port and the city will avoid duplication of duties, which will allow them to share costs, which could yield savings for taxpayers. Precisely how those costs will be shared has not been finalized. And it will be important for both the port and the city to make sure the interlocal agreement reduces — and not expands — current staffing and resources dedicated to economic development projects.

Some government agencies use the Great Recession and the lingering economic malaise as an excuse for hunkering down and simply trying to cut their losses. Other public agencies are more visionary. They see tough times as temporary. The Port of Vancouver and the city are still battling financial challenges, with no end in sight. But they're also looking to each other, not as autonomous survivors but as partners in preparing for prosperity.