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News / Business / Clark County Business

Economic recovery forum in Vancouver adjusts to pandemic landscape

Development officials use virtual setting to discuss new challenges of three-dimensional world

By Anthony Macuk, Columbian business reporter
Published: July 17, 2020, 7:18pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the usual lineup of conferences and events that would be held at the Hilton Vancouver Washington in a typical year, but this week saw a hint of how those kinds of events are evolving to match the times.

The Washington Economic Development Association on Tuesday and Wednesday hosted an economic recovery forum titled “Onward & Upward,” presented live at the Hilton but broadcast to an entirely virtual audience.

Port of Vancouver Director of Economic Development Mike Bomar and Vancouver Economic Development Division Manager Teresa Brum helped organize the two-day event, introducing or moderating multiple discussion panels.

They also led a virtual tour of The Waterfront Vancouver, replacing a planned in-person tour that was intended to showcase the district’s development progress in the five years since the last Washington Economic Development Association conference in Vancouver.

The event was designed to try to replicate the networking feel of an in-person conference, according to the association’s Executive Director Suzanne Dale Estey, with virtual “breakout” sessions in between each of the big discussion panels. Most of the participants appeared via Zoom, but Bomar, Brum and other association staff and board members spoke from a podium at the Hilton events center.

Following initial remarks from Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, the opening session focused on equity during pandemic recovery, featuring Washington Commerce Director Lisa Brown and Bryant Campbell, Business Oregon’s diversity, equity and inclusion manager.

Brum then moderated a panel about available recovery resources from federal agencies, featuring U.S. Small Business Administration Regional Administrator Jeremy Field, U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Representative Richard Berndt, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Chief of Staff Tim Mahedy and Jeff Finkle, president of the International Economic Development Council.

The discussion touched on the damage done by the pandemic so far and the potential for economic recovery, as well as business resources such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

“In just three months the SBA has approved and dispersed nearly twice as many (Economic Injury Disaster) loans for COVID-19 than we have for all other disasters in the combined 67-year history of the agency,” Field said.

Tuesday’s keynote session was titled “Accessing Capital to Spark Recovery” and included talks from Gov. Jay Inslee, American Bankers Association President Rob Nichols and Chris Green, assistant director of the Washington State Department of Commerce Office of Economic Development.

Inslee expressed confidence in Washington’s ability to recover economically but emphasized the need to rein in the pandemic first, describing the state as being in the second or third inning of a nine-inning game.

“The current conditions we’re in are the most challenging, certainly, of my lifetime, and they’re not going to be over next Monday,” he said. “I wish I could say they’re going to be.”

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Katie Drucker, head of business development and partnerships at Madrona Venture Group, led the first session on Wednesday detailing a “Back to Work Toolkit” with resources for employers in the midst of reopening.

The next panel focused on equity and universal economic opportunity during the recovery, featuring Prosper Portland Economic Development Director Tory Campbell, Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber Executive Director Carmen Castro, Seattle Office of Economic Development Director Bobby Lee, Thurston Economic Development Council Executive Director Michael Cade and Port of Bellingham Economic Development Project Manager Gina Stark.

The conference closed out with a keynote session about action plans for economic developers, led by researcher Richard Florida, who discussed ways for communities to rebuild their economies, including by rethinking infrastructure and public spaces to allow businesses to function while maintaining social distancing.

“If you ask me, what the biggest outcome in terms of the physical landscape of our cities and suburbs (will be), it’s going to be healthier and more active streets,” he said.

Columbian business reporter