In Our View: A Sharp Contrast

Vancouver's approach to attracting business more reasonable than county's

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The actions of the Vancouver City Council in bringing Banfield Pet Hospital to town serve as a sharp contrast to the approach of the Clark County Board of Commissioners when it comes to attracting businesses. One is thoughtful, measured, and measurable; the other is ideological and has yet to be accompanied by evidence that it is working or ever will work.

Last month, Banfield announced that it plans to build a new corporate headquarters in east Vancouver — a 230,000-square-foot office building at Mill Plain Boulevard and Southeast 184th Avenue. Banfield, founded in 1955 in Portland, is the largest private veterinary practice in the United States, and its headquarters has about 560 employees. Last week, members of the city council were presented with details of the incentives used to lure the company to Vancouver, including a discount on traffic impact fees; waiver of the city’s annual business license surcharge for five years; and a $150,000 1-acre public dog park adjacent to the building.

More important, Chad Eiken, director of community and economic development for the city, told councilors that in providing such incentives, officials should consider committed capital investment, the number of jobs, wages, and how quickly the incentives would be paid back through increased tax revenue. He estimated that Banfield will generate $14.2 million in new tax revenue for the state, city, Evergreen Public Schools, and smaller taxing districts over the next 15 years — the period of the company’s lease with the owners of Columbia Tech Center.

That is where the contrast comes in. Clark County commissioners, on the other hand, last year established a blanket waiver of the fees developers pay for commercial projects. “The fee waiver is key to setting the atmosphere for businesses in Clark County,” Commissioner David Madore, the most vocal proponent of the fee waiver, said last month. “We compete with all the other communities, especially along the West Coast, to determine where is the best place to launch or grow your business.”

Madore is correct about that. Attracting businesses and economic growth is a competition, and governments should work to provide the most attractive environment for employers. But they also must weigh that attractiveness against what is best for taxpayers. Blindly eschewing development fees certainly is good for developers, but it is bad for residents if not considered on a case-by-case basis and measured against the benefits a new business can provide for the area. Development, by definition, comes with infrastructure costs, and passing those costs along to taxpayers isn’t always the wisest policy. As The Columbian has written editorially, “Commissioners must be able to accurately measure whether those taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment.” In other words, the competition should pit Clark County against other locales — not pit businesses against taxpayers.

The issue of development fees and incentives for businesses is akin to dating. Vancouver’s approach to Banfield — cautiously seeing if there’s a mutual attraction, sharing the cost of dinner, providing a small gift — is the approach of a confident, comfortable suitor. Clark County’s approach — bringing flowers and gifts and paying for all of the meal and the movie before finding out whether there’s the possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship — smacks of desperation. The more measured, thoughtful, reasonable approach is a better path to long-term happiness.