Strictly Business: Identifying a new way forward

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 
photoGordon Oliver

John McKibbin helped launch Identity Clark County as a community leader two decades ago, and he’s remained interested and active. A former schoolteacher who’s served both as a state representative and a Clark County commissioner, McKibbin now returns to center stage as Identity Clark County’s president. In that role, he’s on a mission to help Clark County move past the bridge-induced pain of recent years to move its economy forward.

McKibbin is polished in appearance and positive in presentations about the county, and he takes the big view you’d expect from someone who frequently has a bird’s-eye view of the county from the private plane based at Pearson Field. His background in politics and businesses makes him a natural for building bridges to replace those that collapsed in the bitter fight over the Columbia River Crossing. He longs for a return to the cordial, collaborative relationships between business, politics, and citizenry that moved this county in the past two decades from bedroom community into a place with its own business and social identity, a branch Washington State University campus, and an opening up of 192nd Avenue to a flood of housing and commercial development.

There is, McKibbin believes, a strong appetite for consensus and progress that characterized the days before the Columbia River Crossing created community indigestion. The county is comfortable in its skin these days, he says, with great schools, an appealing tax structure, and a fine quality of life.

Finding a new path to the old ways of problem-solving won’t be easy. The traffic congestion between Clark County and the job-rich Oregon side of the Portland metropolitan area didn’t disappear with the Columbia River Crossing’s demise to the trash bin of failed transportation projects. And the feuding that boiled out of the debate over light rail has spread to the county commission, prompting a countywide examination of the structure of county government.

McKibbin supports the proposed county charter change and thinks voters will favor consensus-oriented candidates. Paul Montague, his predecessor at Identity Clark County, is talking about launching a political action group that would support those candidates who tack to a business-oriented vision for the county.

Retired businessman and philanthropist Ed Lynch, an early leader and longtime financial supporter of Identity Clark County, is delighted with McKibbin’s return as the organization’s leader. Lynch sees a tougher road than in the old days: there once were four locally based banks to help finance and support civic activities, today there is only one, for example. And, Lynch adds, put yourself in the shoes of a legislator from Spokane when Southwest Washington comes hat-in-hand for transportation money, he says. The response is obvious: You wasted more than $100 million on a project that your own local legislators opposed. Why should we give you more?

It will be McKibbin’s job to help heal the wounds of past battles and find a way to minimize new ones from today’s fights over charter change and the proposed Port of Vancouver oil terminal, while selling his a bird’s-eye view of a more collaborative future.