The Columbian recently sat down with Mike Bomar, incoming president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, to discuss his new job and his top priorities. The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Why did you want the job?
I’d been in contact with and involved with (the CREDC) for a couple of years now, working on land for jobs (the CREDC’s initiative to make more shovel-ready land available for employers) and the pre-permitting committee. My background with the Building Industry Association had a lot of advocacy involved in it, whereas when I went over to the (Southwest Washington Contractors Association) it was really more management.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to build on my management experience but I was also missing some of that advocacy component, and I also felt that I was missing some of the broader business advocacy that was kind of at the core of what my passions were. So I had talked to Lisa Nisenfeld (about preparing) long-term for when she was ready to move on, what could I do to be ready for the position. Certainly this position has been of interest to me for a while, just because of the people involved, the quality of staff, and the opportunity with the mission of the CREDC and what they’re able to do in the community.
What are your top priorities?
The question is, what are you going to do today to help get to where you want to go? So I’m very specific and concrete about goals short-term and long-term, and I want to have those dialed in and that’s really step one — to make sure everyone from the staff level up to the board has specific action items that they’re working on to make sure the outcomes we have for our investors are meaningful for the community, that we’re advancing our economic development goals.
You’ve got a lot of economic opportunities in Ridgefield with the sewer extension there, you have economic opportunities on the east side with Camas (and) Washougal, and some of the infrastructure investments they have put in there. (We need to make sure) we’re on top of those issues and others that are communitywide that may come up or may not, depending on what happens in the next few weeks here.
The Clark County Economic Development Plan, commissioned by the CREDC and completed in late 2011, calls on area business and government leaders to carry out numerous actions, including establishing the county as an information-technology hub; expanding the influence of Washington State University Vancouver and of Clark College in the local economy, including building a business-oriented university research park; and growing existing businesses, recruiting companies and promoting entrepreneurship in target industries such as technology services and products. Is that plan still relevant today?
This plan, in reading through it several times, really reminds me of a lot of what happens in comprehensive planning in growth management (plans). You have these long-range plans, these big broad plans but then you have this on-the-ground battle that’s constantly going to change. A good plan needs to be both secure but also flexible.
I don’t see us completely shifting from the plan and disregarding it. What we need to do is go back and take a look at it, what is relevant here? There’s a lot of great data in there, and it identifies some of the really good resources that Clark County and Southwest Washington have to work from (including) workforce development, higher education (and) the existing businesses we have. We have a great expert staff that is more than capable of doing just about anything in that plan, but as you know it’s about partnerships, and it’s going to take a lot of collaboration to accomplish a lot of things listed (in the plan).
Your predecessor, Nisenfeld, sought to create a new position on the CREDC staff, one dedicated to carrying out the land for jobs initiative. But that initiative was put in limbo because Clark County government pulled its funding from the CREDC over the agency’s support for the Columbia River Crossing project. Will you pursue creating a land for jobs staff position?
The answer to that is simply yes. The details are when and how, and so we’ll be looking at investment opportunities and how do we best take new investment and (put) that into real outcomes for our group.
Land for jobs has two great assets right now: Helen Devery (of Berger-ABAM, a consulting firm with numerous specialties) is an excellent chair of that committee and then Elizabeth Scott (the CREDC’s research analyst) is another excellent staff member able to handle some of the big tasks. We’ve had some setbacks, certainly. That said, land for jobs is certainly a priority, not just short-term outcomes but identifying a way in which we can create a system that truly identifies and maximizes the type of land we have available for a broad number of users.
One thing we’ve seen in the industry is (the low patience) that a lot of potential businesses have when they’re looking at areas, and we have to be able to continue to compete both regionally and nationally.
In January, Clark County commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke threatened to halt funding to the CREDC unless it dropped its support of the CRC. Shortly afterward, the county and CREDC split, only to later restore their relationship. What do you think of that episode?
My leadership role is really going to be to mend those relationships so that we can continue to work together. If (the CRC) does happen, that’s when I’m going to be working with a lot of the stakeholders to figure out what is our appropriate role in that. A lot of those ships have sailed already, so it’s going to be a matter of making sure that our community and our economy, whichever direction (the CRC) goes gets the most out of it.
Does the CREDC still support the CRC?
It doesn’t change because of my leadership necessarily, so the position, as I understand it, still is in support. But I don’t believe we’re doing a lot of work on it at this point. If we do get (into a situation) where I feel like we need to take a look at what our position is, I can certainly revisit that. What I don’t want to do is lose focus on some of these other broad issues we have in front of us. My biggest frustration in the last five years is it’s been a lot about what Vancouver and Clark County haven’t done, and I want to really focus on the next five years and looking at the projects that are moving forward and maintaining that focus.
What are you reading these days?
I am reading a lot of children’s books at this point. I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. The last book that I read this summer was “Steve Jobs” (by Walter Isaacson). I’m very interested in entrepreneurs, that’s part of what drives me to this job, and so really learning from him in Isaacson’s book, and some of the humanist side of things, where we tend to create icons out of some of these folks, and getting a background story was very helpful and a good read. I’ve read a lot of reports and a lot of policy, as of late, and a lot of children’s books. So I have those spectrums.
What’s the last movie you saw?
We saw “Lincoln.” … that was a good one. I’m very big on apocalyptic movies for some reason, so “World War Z,” I think we rented that one. We get out from time to time, but most of the time it’s children at home, so I haven’t hit the theaters as much as I used to.