Ridgefield in growth spurt

City the 5th fastest growing in state; Woodland population dips slightly

By Tyler Graf and Erin Middlewood

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Ridgefield was the fifth fastest growing city in Washington between 2011 and 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released late Wednesday. City leaders say years spent laying the groundwork for business and residential development helped Ridgefield bounce back quickly from the Great Recession.

The city along Interstate 5 north of Vancouver is home to 5,260 residents. It grew by 213 people, or 4.22 percent, between 2011 and 2012. Only Duvall, Pullman, Gig Harbor and Snoqualmie — also small cities — grew more quickly.

Estimates show growth below 2 percent for Clark County's other cities, with Woodland losing a few residents.

Clark County's total population grew 1.19 percent, from 433,115 in 2011 to 438,287 in 2012, according to the census data. The state grew by 1.08 percent, to 6.9 million residents. Nationwide, cities in Texas were the fastest growing.

Ridgefield's growth is the result of a concerted effort to attract both family-wage jobs and single-family homes, city officials said. The city remains an appealing destination for developers and residents because of its proximity to the Portland-Vancouver metro area through the I-5 corridor, as well as the availability of shovel-ready land there.

"A lot of people are out here kicking the tires," Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow said. "They're checking on the availability of not just houses, but also businesses."

In recent years, high-end clothing manufacturer Agave Denim located its headquarters in Ridgefield. Northwest Natural Products bottles its vitamins there. Several other businesses have joined them in moving distribution centers or offices to the city, creating a hub for light manufacturing.

Others industries are on their way. Vancouver-based Alliance Industrial Group, a metal fabrication company, recently bought 5 acres west of I-5, near Parr Lumber. The company could bring as many as 80 new jobs to the city.

Residential development also spiked last year. The city issued 121 housing permits in 2012, the most since 2006, when it issued 181 permits. New homes are typically priced between $200,000 and $350,000.

With housing development back on track following the 2008 housing collapse, Ridgefield anticipates continued growth. The city has processed 71 single-family permits so far this year. The city also expects two new subdivisions with a total of 87 lots to break ground before the end of the year.

Ridgefield still has room to grow, with 800 developable lots available, city planners say. Growth, however, also brings a struggle to keep the small-town flavor of the historically rural community.

"The city has tried to balance job creation at the I-5 junction while also maintaining the downtown," said Eric Eisemann, a consulting planner for Ridgefield.

Downtown will remain the home for city services, such as City Hall, the library, the post office and police station, he said, as the city works to fill land at the eastern end of town.

Further simplifying future development is a pending partnership between Ridgefield, Battle Ground and Clark Regional Wastewater District.

The partnership will transfer ownership of the city's sewer collection system to the wastewater district, a move that will shore up more on-demand capacity for the city at the Salmon Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The partnership will increase the city's wastewater capacity — and, by extension, the amount of development Ridgefield can support — from 750,000 gallons to 1 million gallons a day. Currently, the city uses between 350,000 and 400,000 gallons a day.

Just 10 miles away from Ridgefield, in Woodland, lies a different story.

Woodland, which straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties, lost 14 residents, or 0.25 percent of its population, according to the census estimates.

"That could be one big family that moved to another community," said Woodland Mayor Grover Laseke, who doesn't read too much into the numbers. Indeed, the lost population is within the margin of error.

"I don't think there's anything changing in our community right now. We're not seeing any indication that people are moving out of the city. The stagnant economy kept any building starts from taking off," Laseke said. "With the indicators I'm getting from the community, I feel like our city is going to be back on the growth cycle before too much longer."

Port of Woodland Executive Director Nelson Holmberg pointed to the expansion by Mac Chain Co. and Portco Packaging's relocation from Vancouver to Woodland.

While the Census Bureau pinned Woodland's population at 5,540, the state's Office of Financial Management put the number at 5,590 when it released 2012 figures last year.

The federal government uses data from the census in decision-making. The state uses its own numbers. OFM expects to release 2013 population estimates for cities in July.