Strictly Business: Camas baits; will Fisher bite?

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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Ken Fisher likes Clark County, that's no secret. His wealth management company also is well-liked by the county.

He especially feels the love in Camas. But Fisher, founder of Fisher Investments and one of the nation's 400 richest individuals, says he's not being treated better than anyone else by the city's government.

The facts are that the Camas City Council dangled some bait in Fisher's direction last May, hoping he would christen the town as the new home and command center for his $38 billion California investment firm. Fisher has one five-story office building with 445 employees in Camas, but the company still calls Woodside, Calif., its home. It employs 580 people in the Bay area.

Camas leaders freely admit they've tried to tempt Fisher with reduced fees if, before the end of this year, he develops the second of two office towers at his satellite campus near the city's western-most border as the company's headquarters.

It is widely believed in Camas that Fisher's groundbreaking on the second tower will signal his headquarters preference.

"It would be a strong sign," said Camas Mayor Scott Higgins.

Fisher has until the end of this year to take or cut bait. It's a waiting game, with the city hoping for the prestige and high-paying jobs a headquarters will bring.

But Fisher's not giving any clues. And when I asked him this month by email if he is getting closer to a decision, he responded with the brusqueness of a man weary of the question.

"Nothing new. Nothing new. Nothing to announce," he wrote in all caps.

Fisher, 62, is a Forbes columnist and the author of several financial books. In 2006, he launched a search for a new corporate location after announcing that he was fed up with California's business climate.

Higgins said any business, not just Fisher Investments, can benefit from the temporary incentives set forth by Camas, such as cutting in half traffic impact fees and sewer and water hookup fees on new buildings. The city also has a $2 million Northwest 38th Avenue extension in the works, which will provide a straight shot from Vancouver into the Fisher campus.

Higgins said the infrastructure projects are "designed to move the economy forward with Camas leading the way."

But despite rumors that other big companies are interested in Camas, Fisher Investments remains the biggest catch of the day. The company's employees earn annual salaries ranging from $75,000 to $200,000 and work with high-net-worth clients and manage pension plans.

"It has always been our plan to get Fisher to do as much business in Camas as possible," Higgins said.

In his email response, Fisher said the business incentives in Camas were "not done at our initiation, negotiation, or for us with any specificity."

Camas has used similar lures to get other businesses to bite, goodies such as the state tax incentives, road improvements and local fast-track permitting that helped land WaferTech's $1.2 billion semiconductor plant in the late 1990s.

But what Fisher will do is anybody's guess. If he decides not to expand, he won't be the first. Other companies also have scaled back their once grand ambitions in Camas.

At the Sharp campus, two buildings sit on a 120-acre Prune Hill tract. In the mid-1980s, the company had a foundation poured at the site to develop a 55,000-square-foot fabrication plant. The building was never constructed.

Cami Joner: 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner or cami.joner@columbian.com.