Strictly Business: Forecast breakfast in review

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor



We spend a lot of time thinking about — and disagreeing about — the economy. Our fundamental differences about how to energize Clark County’s economy are profound. The multibillion-dollar Columbia River Crossing is either our salvation — creating jobs during construction and improving access when it’s finished, or our demise — destroying downtown businesses during construction and sucking money out of the economy with tolls. And that’s not even mentioning light rail.

At The Columbian, we try to report about the economy debate and add facts to the diverse mix of opinions. And each year, we aim to play a leadership role in the discussion with our Economic Forecast Breakfast. The January event typically draws hundreds of people to hear experts on the economy, and in their professional fields, offer their best projections for the upcoming year.

Scott Davis, The Columbian’s market analyst, follows up after each year’s breakfast with a survey to see what attendees liked and didn’t like about the event. And this year’s results are in.

The good news: 90 percent said this year’s event met their expectations. “A crystal clear forecast of the coming year is getting more and more difficult to predict; but this forum provides the best information that is available because it’s local folks giving purely local facts and perceptions,” one person wrote.

Almost 80 percent said they liked this year’s format of three keynote speakers, each taking a slice of the discussion about the state, Portland metro, and Clark County economies. “Keynote panel offered candid insight and relevant information,” one person wrote. Some didn’t agree: one person said the panel “was disjointed, didn’t have a consistent message.”

That panel featured Thomas Potiowsky, chair of Portland State University’s economics department, discussing the Portland metro economy; Randall Pozdena, an economist for the ECONorthwest consulting firm, on the Washington economy; and Scott Keeney, CEO of Vancouver-based nLight, a digital laser company. Betsy Henning, president of AHA! marketing firm, was moderator. Pozdena drew the sharpest criticism from commenters in the survey.

“Pozdena went off on a partisan political lecture that was mostly an argument with Paul Krugman, who was not there to defend his position — churlish and a waste of our time,” said one clearly irritated respondent.

The breakfast event also includes three breakout panels. This year’s topical themes were Where We Live, Work and Shop; Building Basic Industries; and New Areas of Promise. Respondents gave their highest ratings to that third category, which included panelists focused on innovation and new technologies. “I appreciated seeing new panelists this year. There have been repeats in past years, and it is better to have variety,” a veteran attendee wrote.

Then came the open-ended suggestions. More focus on employment. Or education. A dynamic speaker, or a controversial one “who is way out there and gets people talking!”

That’s where you come in. The Columbian’s business staff will soon be back at work lining up next year’s keynote speaker (or speakers) and breakout panelists. If you’ve attended the breakfast in the past, read about it in The Columbian, or would like to attend in the future, tell us who you’d like to hear. Clark County is filled with talented people who have much to share. And it’s great to hear from outsiders as well. Drop us a line with your suggestions.

Gordon Oliver : 360-735-4699,, or