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Fisher Investments feeling at home in Camas

Money management firm officially makes Camas its headquarters

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter
Published:
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Ken Fisher, CEO of Fisher Investments, gives the keynote speech at The Columbian’s annual Economic Forecast Breakfast this year in Vancouver.
Ken Fisher, CEO of Fisher Investments, gives the keynote speech at The Columbian’s annual Economic Forecast Breakfast this year in Vancouver. Fisher’s company has quickly become one of Clark County’s largest employers. Photo Gallery

For years, Ken Fisher, founder and CEO of Fisher Investments, the global, multibillion-dollar money management firm, deflected questions about whether the campus he was building in Camas meant his California firm was relocating its headquarters to Clark County.

In a 2013 interview with The Columbian, Fisher, a Forbes columnist and author of best-selling financial books, questioned whether it mattered all that much to call one city or another the official headquarters for his firm. “Might be better to have a virtual headquarters moving forward,” he said.

True, a company like Fisher’s could probably do what it does out of a headquarters located just about anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, while Fisher himself has frequently declined to say whether Camas is his new corporate base, his firm’s website now identifies Camas as the headquarters for a company whose employees work in Washington, California, the United Kingdom, Germany, Dubai, Australia, and Japan.

Yes, the confirmation is made with parenthetical fanfare, but there it is in bold type on the firm’s Web page titled “Fisher Investments Locations” (www.fisherinvestments.com/about/company-info/locations):

“Fisher Investments — Camas (Corporate Headquarters) 5525 NW Fisher Creek Drive, Camas, WA 98607.”

While the headquarters designation means something to the hometown business boosters in Clark County, it seems to mean little or nothing to Ken Fisher himself.

2007: Fisher Investments, headquartered in Woodside, Calif., opens east Vancouver satellite office, calling Clark County one of three sites it would consider for a permanent corporate relocation.

2008: Firm buys property in Camas for potential new headquarters campus. Founder Ken Fisher says it’s too early to say whether he will relocate his firm and its 1,100 employees from California. 

2009: Site work begins on firm’s 150-acre office campus in Camas. Firm’s local presence grows from the 50 employees at its original satellite office in east Vancovuer to more than 200.

2010: The first of two office towers begins to rise in Camas. But Fisher says he won’t make the city his firm’s headquarters if Washington voters approve Initiative 1098, a state ballot measure that would tax the incomes of people who earn $200,000 or more. “If 1098 gets within 5 percent of passing, there is no way under God’s little green apples Washington will ever be our corporate headquarters and likely (Camas) will never see another building,” Fisher told The Columbian. The ballot measure was defeated by 64 percent of voters.

2011: The firm’s first office tower nears completion in Camas as a second, smaller building starts. The firm expects to move more than 400 workers into the office tower, relocating them from three buildings in Vancouver’s Columbia Tech Center.

2012: Firm’s second, smaller building in Camas opens and will house about 40 workers, Fisher says. First office tower now houses about 450 employees.

2013: Firm expects to break ground on a second office tower — a five-story, identical twin to the first tower. The second office building will have room for about 700 workers. Fisher tells The Columbian that about 445 of the company’s employees now report to the Camas campus, and 600 are based in California. He declines to say whether Camas will become the firm’s new headquarters. He says his firm employs a total of 1,600 people.

2014: Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, speaking during his State of the Community speech, says he anticipates Fisher Investments will soon finish its second office tower. When that happens, the firm is likely to have more than 1,000 employees in Camas, Higgins says.

2015: Fisher investments says it has nearly 2,000 employees worldwide, including about 975 in Camas and 585 in Woodside and San Mateo, Calif. Other employees are in wholly owned subsidiaries or affiliates in London, Germany, Australia, Dubai, and Japan.

“We operate, believing the old headquarters concept to be technologically obsolete, off a virtual headquarters concept today,” Fisher wrote by email. “… The government requires a mailing address for ‘headquarters’ and ours was changed to Camas. Otherwise, there is no significance at all.”

And just like that, the yearslong question of whether Fisher, whose firm manages more than $65 billion, would make Camas, home to an estimated 21,000 people, his corporate roost is settled. The passing of the crown from Woodside, Calif., to Camas, even if just a technicality in the mind of the company’s CEO, officially happened.

Suffice it to say, Paul Dennis, president and CEO of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association, isn’t startled by the switch.

The Camas campus has “kind of been the unofficial headquarters for quite some time,” he said

The designation doesn’t matter nearly as much as the hundreds of high-paying jobs Fisher has poured into the area as he’s expanded his footprint here.

The firm’s current total head count in Camas, where its campus includes two five-story office buildings, is about 975 workers. That’s a lot of growth, especially for well-paid jobs. And Fisher has plenty of room to grow further: The company said last week it has capacity to accommodate 1,800 employees in Camas.

For perspective: In 2011, the firm anticipated moving more than 400 workers into its first office tower in Camas by relocating them from satellite offices in east Vancouver.

For further perspective: PeaceHealth, the nonprofit health care company that also has been a major contributor to Clark County’s inflow of corporate office jobs, had, by the end of 2011, about 300 employees at its Vancouver headquarters. Currently, PeaceHealth has 894 there.

So, in roughly the last four years, Fisher Investments and PeaceHealth have, conservatively speaking, pumped at least 1,100 corporate office jobs into Clark County’s labor market. Not a bad way for Clark County to be helped out of the cellar of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

‘Multiplier effects’

The influx of high-paying corporate office jobs (Fisher has told The Columbian that his firm’s employees earn between $75,000 and $200,000 annually), and the additional jobs they bring about, are part of the reason Clark County’s economy is moving along at a nice clip.

This summer, total nonfarm employment in the county has nearly topped 150,000 jobs, according to a labor market analysis by Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department.

At the time, Bailey said the county, “in a business cycle expansion,” benefits from its position as a suburban area within a larger metro region whose economy is doing well and is riding “some of the multiplier effects” from “some of the bigger fish that have come in.”

Those bigger fish include Fisher Investments, PeaceHealth and Integra, which moved its headquarters from Portland last year. At the risk of overstating it, Clark County’s landscape of corporate headquarters looks to be rapidly emerging from the shadow of the larger scene in Portland. And like Integra before it, Banfield Pet Hospital is now in the process of relocating its headquarters from Portland to east Vancouver.

Although Fisher Investments’ labeling of Camas as its base of white-collar operations takes a backseat to the firm’s creation of jobs here, it’s important enough to merit more than a few raised eyebrows, according to local economic development officials.

What matters more than the headquarters label is that the company’s key decision-makers have chosen Camas as their home, said Dennis, a former mayor of Camas. “If you don’t have your key folks here, it’s just an office,” Dennis said. “They’re vested here.”

And being chosen as the home of a proven firm whose clients include Fortune 500 companies “sends a message to the broader marketplace,” Dennis added. “That’s a pretty big deal. The marketplace takes note of that.”

Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council — the nonprofit, Vancouver-based promoter of jobs and recruiter of businesses — agreed.

“We have seen a significant amount of interest in companies wanting to locate their company headquarters in Clark County,” he said in an email to The Columbian. “We believe the tax structure, proximity to a top-ranked international airport, and livability (cost of living and amenities) are key factors that make our area a prime location for that type of investment.”

‘You guys be you’

Fisher, who was in Germany last week, has previously said as much. In interviews with The Columbian, he’s listed affordable housing, proximity to Portland International Airport and Clark County schools as key attractions that drew him to the area.

And Fisher apparently will change his status with the company, perhaps giving him more time to enjoy the area’s amenities. He has said that by the end of next year, he will relinquish his position as CEO of the firm he founded in 1979.

That information was reported in April by InvestmentNews, which tracks the financial services industry. A spokesman for Fisher Investments was quoted as saying that Fisher has openly talked “for some years” about stepping down “in the year after his 65th birthday, on Nov. 29.”

The report didn’t say Fisher would leave the company entirely. Bill McBride at Bryant Park Financial Communications in New York, a public relations representative for Fisher, said in that article that he expected Fisher to “continue at the firm in some capacity after he relinquishes the CEO role, perhaps as chairman of the firm’s board or as chief investment officer. He said a successor would likely be chosen from within the firm’s ranks of 1,000-plus employees.

The article stirred Fisher to release a news release denying any intention of retiring, although it did not dispute his desire to move out of the CEO post. “As has been stated for years, Mr. Fisher will step down from the CEO position sometime in 2016, handing over day-to-day management of the firm’s non-investment operations,” the April 15 news release said, without any direct reference to the InvestmentNews article. “He will remain Chairman and Co-Chief Investment Officer and a member of the Investment Policy Committee with no change to his investment responsibilities. As Chairman, he will continue to regularly interact with clients, employees, and the investing public.”

If Fisher’s history of unfettered public remarks is any indication, his eventual ceding of the firm’s top executive position won’t translate to a quieter Ken.

For example, in January, serving as the keynote speaker for The Columbian’s 2015 Economic Forecast Breakfast, Fisher pelted urban America, including Portland.

“I’ve got a lot of class and all of it’s low. I got a lot of taste and all of it’s bad. I see all these people who suffer from inferiority complexes who want to go and be a foodie in Portland. I will do that when I’m dragged across the river,” Fisher said.

He added, “Let Portland be Portland. You guys be you.” The remark won applause from the audience.

Aaron Corvin: twitter.com/col_econ; 360-735-4518.

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