Statistics and observation suggest that this is Vancouver’s moment. Fed up with the problems of Portland, Seattle and other urban areas, people are looking at smaller cities such as ours as a place to live comfortable and prosperous lives.
We don’t want to miss this opportunity.
Not that we could. New population data released by the state Office of Financial Management last week says Vancouver added 4,900 new residents last year. That’s second only to Seattle, with 8,400 newcomers. Percentage-wise, Ridgefield continued to lead the state with an 18.32 percent population increase in a single year. La Center and Camas also made the list of fastest-growing cities. It’s worth noting that none of this population growth is due to annexation — people are moving here in droves.
If you doubt that statement, try to buy a house. In May, the average sales price of a Clark County home reached $520,600, up $19,000 in a single month. Pending and closed sales were both up, and a local real estate broker told The Columbian “this was easily the best May for sales activity since 2005.”
Since April 2020, when employment was at its ebb, Clark County has added 11,900 jobs, and employers in a variety of sectors are reporting a shortage of applicants for open positions.
Need more evidence? Clark County retail sales totaled $1.12 billion in the third quarter of last year — despite the pandemic. That was a 17 percent increase over the previous, pre-pandemic year.
Clearly the people are coming. Here they find a good community on the verge of greatness. The Waterfront Vancouver has turned out to be one of, if not the best, recent developments in the Portland metro area. Downtown has transformed into a residential neighborhood with lots to see, do, eat and drink. The city hasn’t neglected other districts, with plans to redevelop Tower Mall in Vancouver Heights, the old Section 30 gravel pit in the city’s northeast quarter, and the old Fisher Quarry along state Highway 14, where buildings are already taking the place of rock crushers and earth-movers. These new urban centers will function as hubs for jobs, homes and attractions.
With the opportunity comes responsibility. Although much less than Portland, our homelessness crisis is apparent. There are too few affordable housing options for lower-wage workers and retirees. We need to help people with mental health and substance abuse disorders. We need to do more to promote equity and social justice in our community. And, as we have seen in previous waves, growth itself presents challenges as we strive to provide the roads, homes, schools and other services and amenities that newcomers desire.
Although we were here first, for decades Vancouver has existed in the shadow of Portland. We were the place with the shipyard, the mills and that brewery with the great big sign. We’ve been the city with the cardrooms, the pawnshops and the cheap houses. They called us “Vantucky” and “Vancooter.”
Now we’re home to the wealthy retirees, the entrepreneurs and the new public companies like nLight, ZoomInfo and, soon, AbSci. We’ve got the hot new restaurants, the best public schools and the best access to Interstate 5 and even Portland International Airport.
No wonder in March, Forbes magazine recommended Vancouver as the second-best place in America to visit during the pandemic.
Whether we want to grow or not, Vancouver has been discovered. Now is our chance to transform our community. It’s our opportunity; we need to seize it.