With The Columbian’s 2016 Economic Forecast Breakfast just around the year-end corner, I decided to look at forecasts from past years to see how much times have changed in our local business world. My review of essays written by participants from years past became a walk down the memory lane of hard times.
Even at an event oriented toward civic optimism, breakfast panelists in those dark years of our economic downturn couldn’t conceal their gloom.
In 2009, Scott Bailey, the Employment Security Department’s well-informed regional economist, forecast major job losses in manufacturing and construction. A years later Bart Phillips, then president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, wrote an article headlined “Clark County business leaders foresee disturbing trends.”
And so it went for a couple more years: “Housing market to remain stagnant,” predicted real estate broker Dick Riley in 2011. Next up, in 2012: “Business expansion likely to stay slow,” from commercial broker Eric Fuller. Finally, the clouds started to lift with essays about an improved economy in 2013, job growth in 2014, and, this year from Scott Bailey: “More positives in 2015.”
Which brings us to the 2016 breakfast, set for Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. Now business optimism is real, not forced. Clark County’s job growth exceeds that of the state and the Portland region. Unemployment continues to drop, now resting at an estimated 5.6 percent. Existing businesses are expanding and new ones — including Banfield Pet Hospitals in 2016 — are arriving. By some measures, home sales have returned to pre-recession levels. Only stagnant wages for many middle-income workers remain as a dark cloud.
With the economy on increasingly sure footing, we’re turning our attention not to growth but to change. Our theme of “Embracing Change” is intended to highlight how our companies are responding to rapid technological advances within and outside their industries. New “disruptive” business models — Uber, airbnb, and Tesla are examples — threaten entire industries while creating new opportunities.
Three keynote speakers
This year’s breakfast returns to the popular three-keynote format we’ve used in the past. Keynote speakers are Greg Goodwin, CEO of Kuni Automotive, a multistate chain of luxury car dealerships; Bruce Cazenave, CEO of Vancouver-based sports fitness company Nautilus Inc.; and Liz Dunne, president and CEO of PeaceHealth. The businesses they represent are all innovators in technology and business models. But expect the roundtable discussion to include many other topics.
We’re also offering our usual four breakout panels, at which speakers will address issues specific to local business sectors in greater detail. One session will focus on Vancouver’s downtown and the Port of Vancouver, including its plans to redevelop the Terminal 1/former Red Lion site; another will focus on business leadership in growing companies; a third will include panelists who have succeeded in building regional or national markets; and a fourth panel will include speakers with expertise in Clark County’s development and real estate industries. Check out the full list of speakers at www.columbian.com/economicforecast, and I hope you attend to help prepare for the year ahead.