Vancouver seeks a development head

Previous division manager helped lead shift toward information-based economy

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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The city of Vancouver has aggressively pursued several recent economic development projects, including everything from a Nike expansion, which it lost to Oregon, to a special designation aimed at boosting Clark County's knowledge-based economy, which the city won this month.

Yet since May, Vancouver has been missing an important component in its push to remain business-friendly: a permanent manager of the city's economic development division.

It's moving to remedy the situation this week, finalizing and issuing a request for job applications. A candidate could be hired by early December.

"It's a hugely important position," said Chad Eiken, director of community and economic development. It's someone "who will be out there in the community promoting Vancouver," he said, to attract new businesses and to help existing companies stay and grow.

Alisa Pyszka, who'd supervised the economic development division since 2008, left the city in May. She now serves as vice president of business recruitment and expansion for Greater Portland Inc., a public-private partnership that promotes business across seven counties in the Portland-Vancouver area.

Whoever the city hires to succeed her will inherit several projects she either launched or played a critical part in, Eiken said. Those projects include the Innovation Partnership Zone, a designation the city won Oct. 1 from the state Department of Commerce. The targeted areas of the IPZ — officially dubbed the Applied Digital Technology Accelerator — are in Vancouver's downtown and waterfront, as well as along both sides of Southeast 192nd Avenue.

The IPZ gives the region additional leverage in seeking grants to help pay for projects aimed at growing digital technology industries. One idea is to use the IPZ to build incubator space to help high-tech startups.

Eiken said Pyszka helped the city pursue the IPZ designation, part of her larger

work to build partnerships and to diversify the region's economy. "She turned our focus away from trying to rely on the construction industry as our primary economic generator, and to get us to diversify … and focus more on the digital economy," he said.

The city's new economic development division manager, who will directly supervise four employees in a division with a total of 20 employees, will be expected to carry on that mission, Eiken said.

Job description

Indeed, the city's request for job applications spells out several responsibilities, including partnering with regional business leaders to develop incentives to bring businesses to Vancouver; participating in professional group meetings to stay on top of new trends and business news; and providing guidance to the city's planning commission and City Center Redevelopment Authority.

The city wants job candidates with a bachelor's degree in economics, urban planning, business administration or public administration. It says a master's degree in a related subject "is desirable." It also wants six years of experience in such areas as economic development or urban planning, and "at least three years of administrative and managerial experience."

And some private sector experience, according to the city, is "strongly desirable."

The annual salary for the position is about $100,000, Eiken said, but that's under review as part of a larger compensation study.

After Pyszka left in May, Eiken took on her previous duties in addition to his responsibilities. He did so to "better understand what skills and experience I'd need in the person who will fill that position," Eiken said in an email to The Columbian. "It also gave me a chance to work directly with our partners" at the Columbia River Economic Development Council — the county's longtime nonprofit jobs promoter and business recruiter — and at Greater Portland Inc.

Eiken said he's learned a lot from the experience but that he's "eager to have someone who can take on some of the day-to-day economic development work, as well as providing oversight" of the economic development division's staff and programs.