The building community is a key component of the overall economy in Southwest Washington.
Construction trades make up about 7 percent of our overall non-farm employment in Clark County, about 2 percent higher than the national average. This number is even more pronounced in north Clark County, where construction is a major component of our economic base. Construction is a permanent fixture of who we are as a community. This fact, however, does not resign us to a destiny of a bedroom community, but rather presents unique opportunities for us to thrive in the future.
Three areas of focus will drive our potential for success in 2014 and beyond. While 2013’s permitting and employment numbers were encouraging, we need to be concerned about how we are investing our limited infrastructure resources and the impact that approach will have on future development opportunities in Southwest Washington.
Land for jobs
The year 2016 may seem far away, but work is already underway for the next Comprehensive Plan Update. The Columbia River Economic Development Council and the building industry have been working hard to ensure that the next update takes a sophisticated approach to ensuring that there is a steady supply of real job-producing land in Clark County. This effort requires identifying key areas that have the highest potential for development, coordinating infrastructure investments to those areas, and maximizing the tools and partnerships we have that can lead to efficient and effective outcomes. The comprehensive planning process can easily become a numbers game, and it’s the responsibility of the business community and its partners to ensure that 2016 yields a meaningful strategic document that will produce the type of quality employment outcomes we need.
While most areas of construction look bright, public works projects, particularly in road construction, have been declining. Unfortunately, this decline is tied more to a lack of financial resources than to the demand for well-maintained roads and capital needs. This trend is consistent across the state and is a driving force behind the current push for a new state transportation package. Our regional transportation groups and partners have a detailed, prioritized list of projects that will be essential for our future economic growth, and we have shared those projects with our local and statewide delegations.
Unfortunately, the most recent proposed package would vastly underfund our area, creating local funding challenges for decades. If a statewide transportation package is passed — likely in the form of a referendum to the voters — it must include the projects necessary for Southwest Washington to create jobs.
In 2013, the Washington State Legislature stripped the Public Works Trust Fund, a low-cost, low-interest revolving account designed to create efficient funding opportunities for much-needed infrastructure projects. A good example of the trust fund’s effect is the Discovery Clean Water Alliance’s wastewater transmission system extension along the I-5 corridor. This extension will soon provide the opportunity for key jobs-producing development in the Discovery Corridor in north Clark County. Without this tool, local municipalities will be forced to delay or cancel future investments, ultimately costing the region jobs. This fund or an acceptable alternative needs to be restored.
Construction will continue to be a vital part of our local economy. Communication and collaboration between those in development and our economic development leaders will enhance our ability to plan appropriately and create an even better living and working environment for our children.
Our success in the quest for improving our jobs outlook will depend on our ability to choose partnerships over protectionism and productivity over politics.
Mike Bomar is president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council. He previously was executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association.