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Top Clark County Business story of 2019: Waterfront’s rising tide

Development tops list of 15 business stories that captured Columbian headlines and readers’ attention in 2019

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
5 Photos
Vancouver-based take-and-bake pizza chain Papa Murphy's had struggled for years and was purchased by MTY Food Group for $190 million in April.
Vancouver-based take-and-bake pizza chain Papa Murphy's had struggled for years and was purchased by MTY Food Group for $190 million in April. Photo Gallery

Clark County saw a wide range of important business stories in 2019 – so many that we ran into trouble trying to narrow down a Top 10 list. In the end, we settled for a list of the Top 15 – five primary stories that made the biggest splashes, plus 10 more still-powerful standouts. Without further ado:

1. Growth at The Waterfront

More than a dozen stories chronicled The Waterfront Vancouver’s transformation throughout 2019.

The Rediviva, Murdock and RiverWest buildings brought apartment and office tenants to the fledgling district. The still-under-construction Kirkland Tower and Hotel Indigo went from a hole in the ground to tallest structure in the area. Future projects were also announced: The Columbia apartments, The Springs senior living and a central parking garage.

The original restaurant duo of Wildfin American Grill and Twigs Bistro were joined by Stack 571 Burger and Whiskey Bar, Maryhill Winery, Barlow’s Public House and a tasting room from Amavi Cellars and Pepper Bridge Winery.

Several future food options were added to the docket as well: El Gaucho steakhouse, Pizzeria sul Lago, Jorge’s Latin American Cuisine and three more wine destinations from Airfield Estates, Brian Carter Cellars and Naked Winery.

The final piece of the Waterfront Park came online in August: The central water feature that highlights the legacy of the Columbia River.

Things are also heating up at the Port of Vancouver’s nearby Terminal 1 development. Crews broke ground on the AC Hotel by Marriott, and the port unveiled designs for an apartment building and office building at the site.

2. HP bets big on Vancouver

The biggest single business story of 2019 came in at the tail end of the year, when city staff revealed that printer and PC manufacturer HP plans to build a new corporate campus in east Vancouver.

HP’s decision represents a big bet on its future operations in the city and fits with the company’s broader strategy of aggressively pushing into the 3D-printing market. HP’s current Vancouver operation is a key part of the company’s 3D-printing research arm.

The deal would see HP purchase 68 acres of land at Section 30, the former English Pit mine site, to build 330,000 square feet of office space. HP would spend about $50 million to $80 million for that initial development, and the deal gives the company an option to expand its footprint by up to 30 acres in the future.

The city is stepping up to build some of the roads and infrastructure, in the hopes that HP’s investment will kickstart the redevelopment of Section 30 into the city’s next business and technology hub, one that could one day rival the nearby Columbia Tech Center.

3. Vigor lands in Vancouver; Christensen sets sail

Portland-based Vigor Industrial announced in February that it would set up a new operation in Vancouver to build a fleet of military landing craft under a nearly $1 billion contract with the U.S. Army.

Vigor said it would purchase and adapt a Columbia Business Park shipyard that had long been the home of luxury yacht builder Christensen Shipyards.

Christensen faced choppy waters in the post-recession years and was placed into receivership in 2015. One of the company’s co-owners, Tennessee investor Henry Luken, bought the assets out of receivership and restarted the company, now under his sole ownership.

He also sued the Christensen family for alleged mismanagement of the prior iteration of the company, kicking off a lengthy legal battle that wasn’t resolved until February 2019, right around the same time the Vigor deal was announced.

The following month, Luken announced he would relocate Christensen Shipyards to a new facility in his home state. The last two Vancouver-built yachts rolled out of the local facility in June.

4. The Taxman Cometh for Oregonians

Washington shoppers near the state’s southern border have long been able to zip across the river to take advantage of Oregon’s lack of sales tax. Oregon shoppers didn’t have to pay, either; when they came to Washington, all they had to do was show an Oregon ID at the point of sale to be exempted from Washington’s sales tax. But on July 1, a Washington law kicked in and eliminated the point-of-sale tax exemption, instead requiring Oregonians to save their receipts and submit a single reimbursement claim to the Washington Department of Revenue at the end of the year.

Several Clark County business owners reacted to the proposal with consternation, expressing concerns that it would drive away the Oregon portion of their customer base. The Columbian’s story also drew a high amount of online reader traffic from Oregon, indicating that shoppers south of the river are paying attention to the changes. Because sales tax data takes time to be compiled, there aren’t yet any available statistics to show what happened.

5. Labor unrest in Clark County

The fall of 2019 saw Clark County roiled by a series of private sector labor disputes that all seemed to come to a head in the same two-month period.

First there was Fred Meyer, where stalled contract negotiations prompted union workers to begin calling for customers to boycott the company. Both sides prepared for a strike, which was narrowly averted.

Meanwhile, Clark County’s Kaiser Permanente workers were part of a union coalition that planned a week-long strike across six states in October to put pressure on the health care company during negotiations — also narrowly averted.

Workers at PeaceHealth had a fight of their own, staging multiple rallies and pickets at the Vancouver headquarters in support of the bargaining teams for their nurses and technical support workers.

And finally, the Burgerville Workers Union kept up a pressure campaign against the Vancouver-based fast food chain when workers from Portland-area restaurants gathered in late October to picket outside the company’s corporate headquarters in Vancouver.

6. Ken Fisher’s speech

Camas-based Fisher Investments faced a nearly $2 billion backlash due to various investors cutting ties with the company after founder Ken Fisher was accused of making sexist remarks at a business conference.

7. Cinetopia purchased

All of the Vancouver-based luxury movie chain’s locations abruptly went dark in May, and a few days later it emerged that multiplex theater operator AMC had bought the company and would reopen the theaters under its own branding.

8. American Equities

A group of about 200 investors, most local to Clark County, received glum news in June when they were notified that 15 mortgage pools managed by Vancouver-based American Equities had all been declared insolvent and placed into receivership. The case is still being unwound.

9. Holland projects

Holland Partner Group broke ground on a fourth tower at the Vancouvercenter and reached a deal to build a mixed-use office project on Block 10, resolving two long-standing development question marks at the heart of downtown Vancouver.

10. Vaping ban

Washington was one of several states to ban flavored vaping liquids in response to a rash of vaping-related lung illnesses, and the policy had an immediate and devastating effect on Clark County’s vape shops.

11. Papa Murphy’s

After struggling for several years to regain its momentum, Vancouver-based take-and-bake pizza chain Papa Murphy’s announced in April that it would be acquired by Canadian fast food conglomerate MTY Food Group in a $190 million transaction.

12. DiscoverOrg

Vancouver-based business information service DiscoverOrg acquired competitor ZoomInfo in February, then later adopted the ZoomInfo name. In November, the combined company revealed plans for an initial public offering.

13. Sticky’s Pot Shop

The owner of the shuttered Sticky’s Pot Shop in Hazel Dell reached a settlement in March to pay $112,500 for violating Clark County’s ban on retail cannabis sales in unincorporated areas. But then the county council lifted the ban in July, paving the way for Sticky’s return.

14. Trade war effects

Several Vancouver companies felt the heat from the ongoing trade war with China – most notably United Grain, which has had to grapple with a massive oversupply of soybeans that were originally intended for the Chinese market.

15. Lucky 21 closes

The Lucky 21 Casino in Woodland was one of the few remaining cardroom holdouts after the arrival of ilani, but it abruptly folded in April, leading several dozen employees to stage a rally outside to demand their final paychecks.labor

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