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Teresa Brum: Committed to downtown revitalization

Vancouver's economic development division manager took job in January

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter
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Teresa Brum joined the city of Vancouver in January as economic development division manager.
Teresa Brum joined the city of Vancouver in January as economic development division manager. Brum recently discussed everything from Vancouver's property redevelopment efforts to the city's strengths and weaknesses in recruiting new employers. Photo Gallery

Age: 57

Occupation: Economic development division manager for city of Vancouver.

Professional experience: Includes 18 years as the city of Spokane’s business and development director and, most recently, two years running Brum & Associates, a private consulting firm.

Education: Master’s degree in urban planning and public administration from Eastern Washington University in Cheney; bachelor’s degree in history from Middle Tennessee State University.

Family: Married; two sons.

When Teresa Brum joined Vancouver’s Community and Economic Development Department in January, the city gained a well-educated leader with experience in both the public and private sectors. Vancouver’s downtown, meanwhile, welcomed not only a new champion of its continued progress but a new resident, too.

“I intentionally moved to downtown,” Brum said, “and I’m very, very committed to downtown revitalization.”

Indeed, helping to further rejuvenate the city’s core is one of several commitments Brum is expected to carry out as manager of the economic development division of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department. It’s a division focused on three programs: planning, community development and parking.

Age: 57

Occupation: Economic development division manager for city of Vancouver.

Professional experience: Includes 18 years as the city of Spokane's business and development director and, most recently, two years running Brum & Associates, a private consulting firm.

Education: Master's degree in urban planning and public administration from Eastern Washington University in Cheney; bachelor's degree in history from Middle Tennessee State University.

Family: Married; two sons.

Brum started her new job, which pays $104,000 annually, on Jan. 27. Her previous experience includes 18 years as Spokane’s business and development director and, most recently, two years running Brum & Associates, a private consulting firm.

Of all the projects that fill Brum’s to-do list, two stand out: redevelopment of a former industrial mill site on Vancouver’s waterfront into a hub of residential and commercial activity, and reconstruction of Block 10, the last completely vacant block in the downtown redevelopment area.

What’s more, the city is attempting to cultivate high-tech companies. In October 2013, the Washington State Department of Commerce named portions of Vancouver and Camas as an Innovation Partnership Zone, or IPZ. It opens possibilities for funding additional fiber-optic cable, and for development of a business incubator to develop technologies and talent. The Vancouver-Camas IPZ, one of 18 such zones in the state, is called the Applied Digital Technology Accelerator. It includes Vancouver’s downtown and waterfront, as well as both sides of Southeast 192nd Avenue.

No small tasks, to be sure. But Brum said the city hired her with the understanding that she’d get things done.

“We have excellent planning work that has been done, but my theme is less planning and more doing,” she said.

And she’s no stranger to such a theme, given how she and her four siblings were raised in Anacortes.

“My parents had a very strong work ethic,” she said. “We all worked from a very young age.”

Brum recently sat down with The Columbian to discuss everything from Vancouver’s property redevelopment efforts to the city’s strengths and weaknesses in recruiting new employers and retaining companies. She exuded optimism about the city’s future and enthusiasm for the city center she calls home.

“One of my new favorite things to do is walk over to the Kiggins (Theatre) and see a movie,” she said.

Her comments are edited for brevity and clarity.


What are you working on to put city plans into action?

A good example is the Innovation Partnership Zone. That was started before I got here, but we had a similar designation in Spokane, so I was familiar with it. I’m a huge supporter of that program and the work it can do. We started with a survey of (information technology companies) to see how can we create a better environment for tech businesses in Vancouver, and then we also work with a larger advisory group focused on applied digital technology. In terms of land development, we have brownfields implementation grant funding of $600,000, and we’re working to identify where these brownfield sites are. We’re also working in the Lower Grand (Boulevard) area (near the Fred Meyer-anchored Grand Central development), where we know we have brownfield sites. Those are areas of previous environmental contamination, but there is significant federal money available for the cleanup, and we can turn a challenging property into an investment opportunity. It really starts with building a relationship with property owners.

What do you see as Vancouver’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of its ability to attract new employers?

No state income tax is a big strength. We have great transportation linkages. Being part of the Portland (metro area) is a tremendous asset for us, and being able to draw from the really educated young workforce in Portland is an asset for us, and being part of a (metro area) that has a growing health care and technology sector. (In terms of) weaknesses, I think one certainly is that Washington state has very limited economic development incentives. We always struggle with that. We struggled with that in Spokane. I’m also a board member of the Washington Economic Development Association, and we just had a policy summit. It’s something we are constantly discussing. We are at a disadvantage in comparison to other states, because we don’t offer the kind of financial incentives that other states offer.


Isn’t it true, though, that states with plenty of financial incentives may also end up giving away too many public dollars for too little in return?

A lot of academic studies have been done about the true effectiveness of incentives, but when it comes right down to the bottom line, we’re always struggling (with) how can we position ourselves competitively? And one interesting aspect of that is that quality of life does matter in both relocation and retention. And I want to emphasize that retention is just as important to us as relocation. Growing the existing businesses in Vancouver will have a huge payoff for us, so we wish we had more incentives to help existing businesses grow.

So, we have “no income tax” as a lure. What else do we have in our tool box?

The fact that the economic development partners work together very closely means the CREDC (Columbia River Economic Development Council) can very quickly mobilize a group of people at the table with a company that wants to either expand or relocate here. That’s impressive to a company that’s looking to expand or relocate, because it’s reflective of what their experience might be if they moved here. Also, before I came here — I wish I could claim credit for this great idea — Vancouver streamlined its permitting process, and so in comparison to even cities of our size but certainly in comparison to larger cities, we can turn around a commercial permit within about three months. And if you’re in a bigger city, it can take you up to or over a year.


What can you tell me about the status of efforts to redevelop Block 10 (a city-owned lot bounded by Columbia and Washington streets between Eighth and Ninth streets)?

In 2013, the Leland Group did a report for the city and made recommendations on city-owned properties, and recommended that we go out and test the waters on Block 10, so that was one of my first tasks when I came here. And we released that in April to see what kind of interest there would be, and there wasn’t any at the time.

The feedback we heard was, “Too soon. Go back out next year.” So that’s what we plan to do.

What can you tell me about efforts to construct a commercial-residential redevelopment of Vancouver’s waterfront?

The waterfront is a very complex project and very multifaceted. There are so many issues that have been brought to bear on the waterfront, and yet it is still an unprecedented opportunity for development, really nationally. There are few cities left that have 32 acres of waterfront that is undeveloped, and we are so fortunate to have on board Gramor Development, an experienced developer. (Gramor’s) Barry Cain and his investors are very committed to the kind of high-quality development that we envision for the waterfront. Great strategic work has been done to fund the infrastructure. The next phase of the project, which is actually underway right now, is the construction of Columbia Way, and that will connect (West) Esther (Street) and Grant (Street) to Columbia Street. There’s a little bit of work going on right now and through the fall, and then street construction will start late winter of next year. After that, we’ll be able to start on some of the public park construction as well.

Both the city of Vancouver and the waterfront developer oppose the oil-by-rail transfer terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. at the Port of Vancouver. What role do you play as the city prepares to argue against the oil terminal before the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council?

The oil terminal is a policy decision, and I don’t work at that level. That’s a decision for policymakers, and they’ve made and continue to make statements on that.

My job is waterfront development. My job is to be a liaison with the developer (and) with the port, and to help create that environment for development to occur on the waterfront.

What are you reading these days?

I’m an avid reader. I usually have two or three books going at any time. It’s a good way to unwind after work. I usually read a balance between fiction and nonfiction. The fiction book I’m reading right now is “The Goldfinch,” and the nonfiction book I just picked up is “Shackleton’s Way.”

It’s a leadership book … learning the lessons from the Antarctic explorer who led these unsuccessful trips and was still revered as an incredible leader.


What’s a recent film you saw?

“Lucky Them” (at the Kiggins). It’s about the music scene in Seattle about 20 years ago. Johnny Depp has a cameo appearance at the end. It was kind of fun. You’re in a small theater watching this movie with just a few people, and then, oh, Johnny Depp, and everybody walks out. “Is that really Johnny Depp?” People are talking to each other. You know, the owner of the theater, Dan’s, there. He’s talking to people. “What did you guys think about that surprise ending?” So it’s a whole different moviegoing experience, when you’re right downtown at your own hometown theater.

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Columbian Port & Economy Reporter