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Economic forecast: More uncertainty ahead

Speakers at annual Columbian event say only sure thing is change

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Mark Martel of Martel Wealth Advisors, right, looks over an informational pamphlet while joining a packed crowd Thursday morning, Jan. 21, 2016 at the Vancouver Hilton.
Mark Martel of Martel Wealth Advisors, right, looks over an informational pamphlet while joining a packed crowd Thursday morning, Jan. 21, 2016 at the Vancouver Hilton. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Get used to feeling unsteady amid rapid change, three Clark County CEOs said Thursday morning at The Columbian’s Economic Forecast Breakfast.

“Don’t underestimate the speed and magnitude of change that’s coming,” said panelist Bruce Cazenave, CEO of Nautilus Inc., the fitness equipment maker. “Step into the change instead of resisting. … Embrace the feeling of discomfort.”

The 29th annual event focused on change, and speakers discussed how their companies are facing new competitive challenges due to technology or disruptive industries. The topic must have hit a nerve, because 640 people turned out for the event at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

That beat the previous record for attendance at the breakfast by 100, Columbian Publisher Scott Campbell said.

Scott Bailey, a regional economist for the Washington Employment Security Department, started the discussion with a positive outlook for Clark County’s economy. Although he’s earned the nickname “Dr. Doom,” and he joked that the downturn in China and falling oil prices would lead to a global economic depression, his actual forecast was much more upbeat.

2016 Economic Forecast

Find more information from the speakers at the annual event, along with videos of the keynote speakers and each of the breakout sessions at www.columbian.com/economicforecast. (Videos will be available Friday morning)

“I’m looking for another good year in 2016, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have challenges,” Bailey said. He expects construction will remain strong, and expansion in the professional services sector will continue. The aforementioned Chinese downturn and falling oil prices, however, means the manufacturing sector may have some difficulty.

The other panelists stressed that businesses’ success will depend on their ability to adapt.

“Technology is making a huge difference,” said Liz Dunne, president and CEO of PeaceHealth, the Vancouver-based regional health care system that operates PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver.

The health system recently adopted an electronic medical records system. Dunne envisions a time when technology will connect patients and their caregivers even more deeply. A doctor caring for a patient with diabetes, for example, would be able to see how much he’s exercising and what his blood sugar levels have been before he even shows up for an appointment.

Greg Goodwin, CEO of Kuni Automotive, a Vancouver-based operator of luxury car dealerships in five states, said in his industry, new car shoppers spend an average of 14 hours researching on the Internet before they even visit a dealership. In response, Kuni has changed its showrooms to focus on efficiency and amenities instead of packing them full of cars to view, Goodwin said.

“I like to say embrace change before it embraces you,” Goodwin said. “My choice from the beginning was to jump on the bus instead of off the bridge.”

Innovation in products is important, for sure, but perhaps more so is how businesses do what they do, Cazenave said. Nautilus has used a direct-to-consumer model, and 20 percent of its customers make their purchases by phone. They are buying a $2,000 piece of equipment sight-unseen, Cazenave said. Nautilus has tried to give customers more chances to try out the equipment through special events, and now a new storefront.

“You can lead the change in terms of products and services, but also think about your business model,” he said. “Use the philosophy we adopted: Fail fast but be able to recover quickly.”

All industries are trying harder to meet their customers’ expectations, panelists said.

“We’ve had no choice in every industry to figure out how to morph into what people need today. People want to do business the way they want to do business, not the way entities want to do business,” said Kim Capeloto, an executive vice president of Riverview Community Bank, the event’s presenting sponsor. Other sponsors were PeaceHealth, BergerABAM and The Management Group.

The main panel on change was followed by 75-minute breakout sessions on the future of downtown and the Port of Vancouver’s business endeavors; building and nurturing business leadership, particularly among women and minorities; expanding in regional and national markets; and building homes and workplaces for the growing number of businesses and residents in the county. Video of those sessions will be available at columbian.com within 48 hours.

 

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