CREDC puts focus on talent

Council plans to put more emphasis on recruitment

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

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When it comes to growing businesses in the region, one local organization announced last week its plans to put greater focus on workers.

The Columbia River Economic Development Council, jointly funded by local businesses and governments to cultivate the region’s economy, said Thursday it will tweak its “playbook” to help businesses find more talented employees.

President Mike Bomar said that while recruitment has always been a priority, conversations with local companies led them to underline it even more as it enters Phase 2 of a five-year plan for the Clark County economy.

“We were looking at what could be good for Clark County (in previous plans) but not really starting from the perspective of existing employers,” he said. “So I think it’s a key change that will spring new businesses and help existing businesses grow and prosper.”

The Columbia River Economic Development Council, or CREDC, counts more than 150 private businesses and local governments as direct investors in its work.

Since its formation in 1982, it has been chartered with sowing seeds of a strong regional economy, which takes many forms, including whether that’s a land-use study, advocating for governmental policy changes or recruiting and helping businesses relocate here.

The CREDC is also intertwined with the likes of Clark College, Washington State University Vancouver and Workforce Southwest Washington on programs that stress jobs training and workforce development.

Bomar said the organization will have to shift some roles for its seven-person staff and “require us to be better experts in the field than we have in the past.”

“If we talk with 10 different companies who say they need machine technicians, (our job becomes looking at) what programs exist” that train such workers, and then talking with those programs about how to better meet the needs of the local industry.

“That’s what we do: We make those connections in a way that individual companies couldn’t do in approaching those programs by themselves,” he said.

These tweaks make up Phase 2 of a five-year plan called the 2017 Clark County Comprehensive Economic Development Plan. More than 200 people and entities, from businesses to ports to school districts, helped pen the plan. It was enacted in April.

Phase 2 is also funded in part by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The five-year plan spans 2018 to 2023 and lays out stepping stones of economic development. It highlights the formation of a local tech startup scene, developing more high-skilled workers and getting more land “shovel ready” for new business construction.

The plan also emphasizes five sectors that stakeholders feel will anchor the future economy: computer and electronics; clean tech, like wind, solar and new battery technology; software; metals and machinery; and life sciences.

“I’m really excited about the plan,” Bomar said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to understand business cycles changes, and we want to have a plan that’s resilient to weather any kind of a downturn, too.”