Sunday, March 26, 2023
March 26, 2023

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In Our View: Vancouver’s prospects for prosperity looking up

The Columbian

To get a sense of the local economic prospects, you could read The Columbian.

Headlines in recent days have included “Clark County attracts warehouse developers as industry booms.” And “Clark County adds 400 jobs in September.” And “Vancouver-based Champ Pizza expands into Oregon.”

Yes, a thorough perusal of the daily paper will give you a sense of the latest trends and influences in businesses throughout the region. Or, you could simply look up in order to assess the direction of the local economy.

At least five tower cranes are dotting the landscape around downtown Vancouver. With construction continuing at the Vancouver waterfront, and with other large projects underway in the general vicinity, the downtown area could be mistaken for a larger city. Steel behemoths stretching 200 feet toward the sky make the region look little like a slice of sleepy suburbia.

Depending upon your perspective – and how often you need to drive through downtown – this might be perceived as a good thing or a bad thing. But it is, indeed, an important thing, and it is indicative of the current and future economy for the region.

As The New York Times wrote in 2019: “To determine the health of the economy, you could scrutinize the minutes of Federal Reserve meetings, pore over the latest economic data and scour trade publications. Or you could simply look up.”

That is because tower cranes are viewed as an economic indicator – at least for major cities. They show where big construction is taking place, and where the jobs and the residences of the near future will be.

Cranes, after all, are not necessary for the construction of a fast-food restaurant or a strip mall; they are used to help build tall buildings that allow a city to metaphorically grow up (and literally grow upward), creating office buildings or high-rises that someday will employ or house thousands of people.

Tower cranes are such a good economic indicator that Phoenix-based construction-management firm Rider Levett Bucknall does a biannual count of them in major cities. In recent years, Seattle routinely has ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for the number of tower cranes in action; at times, Portland also has been among the leaders

To be clear, Vancouver’s five or so cranes will not result in our city being confused for a metropolis. In a report released last week, Seattle had 42 active cranes – second behind Los Angeles among U.S. cities – and Toronto had a staggering 230, the most in North America.

But the unusual local skyline calls to mind something that Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said last year. “We’ll continue going up more than out,” she predicted when asked to envision the Vancouver of the future.

That increased density has an impact. As the Brookings Institution writes: “Density has important benefits for both production and consumption, primarily because it lowers transport costs. In production, cities traditionally lower the cost of moving goods, people, and ideas. In consumption, they provide access to large public goods and to specialized services.”

Density also attracts business headquarters, which stretch tentacles of vendors and suppliers and support staff throughout a region.

All of which relates to a spate of tower cranes. Despite high inflation and supply chain woes and a lingering pandemic, Vancouver continues to grow toward a prosperous future. For proof, you only need to look up.