Nonprofit business recruiter reaches 60 percent of fundraising goal

Group aiming for $5.5M by 2017 to boost Clark County economy

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter



Clark County’s largest nonprofit business recruiter and jobs promoter has already reached 60 percent of its goal of raising $5.5 million through 2017 to fund its annual operating budget.

The Columbia River Economic Development Council announced that milestone during a kickoff vent for its “Opportunity Clark County” capital campaign, held Thursday morning at the Fort Vancouver Artillery Barracks.

The Vancouver-based nonprofit, formed in 1982, said that since launching its capital campaign in March, it has raised nearly $3.3 million to pay for its operations and initiatives.

Those initiatives — spelled out in a recent Clark County Economic Development Plan the agency commissioned for $80,000 — include growing existing businesses; helping entrepreneurs secure capital; preserving and creating more land for industrial and commercial employers; and teaming up with schools to boost education in science, technology, engineering and math.

The overarching goal, as outlined by the economic development council in its capital campaign materials, is to diversify Clark County’s economy “beyond manufacturing and natural resource extraction, and embrace the knowledge economy.”

Lisa Nisenfeld, the council’s president, said the five-year campaign and goals mark a shift for the agency that will emphasize building up the county’s existing businesses, as opposed to focusing heavily on recruiting employers from outside the area.

Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon are all marquee businesses that grew up in Washington state instead of being recruited from elsewhere, Nisenfeld said. “We need some marquee businesses,” she added. “Let’s grow them together.”

The economic development council is launching its fundraiser amid a recovering — yet still weak — regional economy.

The latest labor market data, from July, showed Clark County’s economy improving, with strong private sector job growth and fewer first-time claims for unemployment insurance. However, as the region’s labor economist, Scott Bailey, pointed out in his most recent report: “Progress remains agonizingly slow.”

The Columbia River Economic Development Council is hoping to help improve the situation.

Its current annual budget is about $800,000, and the council wants to raise $300,000 more per year, from 2013 to 2017, to achieve an annual operating budget of $1.1 million. The campaign’s five-year goal is to raise a total of $5.5 million, of which it has 40 percent, or $2.2 million, left to secure.

The nonprofit, staffed by six full-time employees, would divide the $1.1 million annual budget among five key initiatives backed by its new, countywide economic-development plan:

o $275,000 for the “business growth” initiative, which, among other goals, aims to help existing businesses create a minimum of 500 new jobs annually beginning in 2013.

o $220,000 for the “domestic and international business recruitment” initiative, which includes identifying at least 20 new prospective companies and successfully recruiting three businesses, bringing 500 jobs to the county annually beginning in 2013.

o $220,000 for the “entrepreneurship and innovation” initiative, which, among other things, would set up a formal investor network and conduct at least six PubTalk networking events per year to secure capital for at least four companies annually.

o $220,000 for the “land for jobs and infrastructure” initiative, including developing a plan this year for “banking,” or setting aside, lands for the purposes of job creation and putting that plan into effect in 2013.

o $165,000 for the “education initiative,” which, among other goals, seeks to bring business, government and university leaders together to expand student enrollment and degree programs — especially in science, technology, engineering and math — beginning this year.

The Columbia River Economic Development Council counts a wide range of Clark County businesses and governments among its 135 members, who fund the group and whom the nonprofit calls “investors.”

For example, the nonprofit has contracts to conduct economic development work for the cities of Vancouver, Camas, Washougal and Ridgefield, Clark County government, and all three ports in the county.

Beginning in 2013, the economic development council plans to conduct an annual survey of its investors to test their satisfaction with the agency’s initiatives and results. Performance metrics will be considered, including median family income, college-degree achievement, capital investment and jobs created.

Bill Dudley, attorney for Landerholm, P.S. and the council’s current board chairman, said the nonprofit’s investors expect a return on their investment.

And the council’s capital campaign, he said, “really allows us to do our job.”

Aaron Corvin:;; 360-735-4518;

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