Some four decades ago, mills throughout the country were shrinking or closing, and the cities that revolved around them were shrinking or dying. Those who embraced reality found a way to thrive; the rest withered. “Not only did I care about Camas, but I wanted to do whatever I could to save it,” Henriksen said. “Because I saw what was coming.”
Not everybody could see as clearly as this mother of three who owned a drug store and Hallmark shop. “Those who had lived in Camas for many years, they were not thrilled about our vision. There were longtime residents who didn’t share my vision who wouldn’t do business at our store.”
But Camas expanded, built an industrial park that was ideal for nascent high-tech industries, attracted companies such as Sharp and Underwriters Laboratories, and saw the development of high-end housing. What was a city of about 6,000 when Henriksen became mayor is now a jewel of about 23,000 with a robust tax base.
The story has been told often. And while Henriksen does not deserve all the credit, she effectively articulates the vision that not only allowed Camas to survive but to thrive.
All of which seems relevant these days. All of which makes for a story worth retelling as too many Americans choose to cling to the past. All of which deserves consideration as this country figures out what to do about climate change. “You mean like facing reality and making a plan?” Henriksen asks.
Indeed. Because those who would rather ignore climate change say dealing with it will undermine the economy, or hurt longstanding industries, or present too large of a problem. Which really is a way of underselling this nation. Making America great again doesn’t mean clinging to the past; it means having a vision for tackling urgent problems. The choice is the same as the one faced by Camas 35 years ago — evolve or die.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 Americans already are employed in the wind energy industry, compared with 52,000 in the coal industry. According to Forbes, the solar energy industry employs more people than oil, coal and gas combined. According to common sense, denying the economic potential of renewable energy is to ignore reality. As Jay Inslee has said: “It’s about igniting core convictions of Americans, that we can be innovators rather than anchoring ourselves to old industries.”
That has a tangential relationship to what has happened in Camas, a city remade with clear vision and sharp dedication. And it has a relationship to the economic potential of embracing change. Just ask Nan Henriksen.