Strictly Business: Recovery might be in bloom

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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Spring arrived on Wednesday, and it felt all week like brighter economic times could finally be arriving in Clark County.

Gov. Jay Inslee came to town Friday, the latest high-level politician to prod Clark County into supporting the painfully polarizing, but job-rich, Columbia River Crossing project. Inslee took time to visit WaferTech in Camas, raising hopes that the city might land a much-discussed wafer fab plant rumored to be under consideration by WaferTech's corporate parent, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.

Also last week, entrepreneur David Barton disclosed that his Vancouver startup, a video-editing workflow management company called Epoch Inc., had secured $2 million in venture capital. Barton says the company, with 15 employees, has big growth ambitions and he says he'll draw on a talent-rich local workforce.

A third whiff of possible new jobs came with news that Portland-based telecom company Integra will consider relocating when its lease in the Lloyd District expires next year. The company operates a network operations center in Vancouver. The local connection led to speculation that Integra, with 570 Portland employees, might consider a jump across the Columbia. But that prospect would play out as a repeat of Nike's purported interest in expanding into Vancouver if Integra is simply hoping to extract incentives from Portland.

With Nike, local and even state economic development officials made a big push to attract the Fortune 500 company, but Nike did a fast fade after the Oregon Legislature approved tax code changes the company wanted.

Local economic development leaders say they don't regret their aggressive pursuit of Nike, but they've learned some hard lessons from the experience. Alisa Pyzska, Vancouver's economic development director, says she'll present recommendations to the City Council next month about establishing "clear and objective criteria" for offering incentives to companies.

The Nike chase did produce one tangible result: a video created to answer Nike's questions about what Vancouver has to offer "urban hipsters." The video was posted last week on the Columbia River Economic Development Council's website (http://www.credc.org/services).

The video is built around a pair of attractive bikers and joggers who wind their way past well-known locales in downtown Vancouver and along the Columbia River. A Nike-like motivational voiceover provides quality-of-life reflections, and the video ends on the tagline "Find yourself in Vancouver."

Nike still finds itself near Beaverton, Ore. But thanks to Nike, the video is now part of the city's economic development toolkit.

Maybe TSMC executives over in Taiwan should take a peek.

Gordon Oliver is The Columbian's business editor. 360-735-4699, http://twitter.com/col_goliver; ;http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business; or gordon.oliver@columbian.com.