I arrived at The Columbian as a business reporter in late 2010, a dark time in Southwest Washington as the Big Short worked its way through the region’s economic arteries. The foreclosure auctions held every Friday outside the Clark County courthouse were testament to this community’s desperate saga. No job, no home.
Two of my memorable images from that bleak time: The cavernous Columbia Center within the Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver looked like an empty airplane hangar surrounded by an empty asphalt runway; downtown, the muddy, rubble-filled waterfront was a blighted remnant of a bygone industrial era at the city’s front door, years away from any productive use.
Our business team at The Columbian wondered why this place was stuck in the recession’s muck even as the rest of the region was healing. We started digging and interviewing, ending up with a series of articles called “Getting to Growth.” One bleak headline: “Clark County doesn’t have the right mix of ingredients for businesses to grow.”
But look at where we are today. The flagship office building at Columbia Tech Center is now home of PeaceHealth and HP Inc. Downtown, the muddy waterfront has given way to streets and sidewalks. Two hotels, an office building, a restaurant and one of the metro area’s finest waterfront parks are in the works. In a few years, it will become a real urban space that will change how Vancouver sees itself and how others see this historic, healthy city.
I reflect on these changes now because this will be my last column as The Columbian’s business editor. A newsroom reorganization is eliminating my job, so I’m on my way out after nearly six years immersed in the local business community. Reporter Brooks Johnson, a top-notch young journalist, will continue to cover business news as a Metro staff reporter.
For me, it’s an end to over 30 years of a daily newspaper journalism career that seemed forever embedded in my inner being. I was a grade-school newspaper carrier. On childhood visits to Portland’s vast Central Library, I headed straight to the dark newspaper room. Many papers were more than a week old by the time they hit those shelves, but I was fascinated by the big headlines, the exotic photos and even the smell of newsprint.
In high school, I was lucky enough to learn journalism from a former newspaper reporter who taught college-level skills. And at Portland State University, I was swept into the excitement of writing and shooting photos in a time of social turmoil. I eventually landed at The Oregonian, where I told tales of government deeds and misdeeds, of problems solved and ignored, of victims and villains. For me, the joy of crafting a story of our shared experiences never faded.
For Clark County, today’s challenge is not “Getting to Growth.” It’s managing growth with more affordable housing, higher wages and solutions to the bistate traffic mess. It’s choosing whether to build an oil terminal and shaking off poisonous politics.
The Columbian’s journalists will keep telling those stories, continuing an honorable craft that’s as old as our nation. In a tough time for our craft, sharing our dreams and sorrows still forms the fabric of community.
Gordon Oliver is can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org