The news might as well have been accompanied with streamers and balloons and a huge sign reading “Clark County is open for business — and business is good.”
As reported recently by Columbian Business Editor Gordon Oliver, the area’s economic indicators for the second quarter of 2014 were overwhelmingly positive. A quick snapshot: Several businesses announced plans to relocate to Clark County; year-over-year manufacturing wages rose 6.2 percent; home sales for April to June were up 10.5 percent from 2013; and home prices showed a similar increase while foreclosures dropped 40 percent.
The list goes on, with the most important numbers demonstrating that employment in Clark County grew at a rate that was twice the national average and easily outpaced that of Washington, Oregon and the Portland metro area as a whole.
But before we break out the champagne and the noisemakers, let us remember that the recovery from the Great Recession — both locally and nationally — is far from secure. Growth remains precarious, and downturns in other parts of the country could scuttle the gains being made in Clark County. Thus, the question moves from “How are we doing?” to “What comes next?” For that, we turn to an interesting report released this week about businesses’ “friendliness.”
A national survey conducted by Thumbtack.com, a San Francisco-based consumer information business, in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, handed out a D+ grade for the state of Washington in terms of friendliness to small business. Now, D+ might technically be a passing grade, but that doesn’t mean it’s an acceptable one. And the survey of small-business owners reinforced what critics in the state long have alleged — that Washington’s regulatory climate is stifling.
Washington earned a D- for its regulations, one of the worst grades in the country, while receiving a D for labor and environmental laws, and an F for zoning regulations. Still, the state earned an A- for the ease of starting a business.
There lies a dichotomy in all this, as Washington’s long-held affinity for environmental concerns frequently is seen as butting up against the interests of business. The two concerns can successfully coexist, but that often can create a precarious situation consisting of a tenuous balance. We wouldn’t advocate for the elimination of all regulations that some might view as “job-killing;” such regulations are designed to enhance the quality of life that Washingtonians hold so dear. But we do urge lawmakers and other leaders to examine the regulations that are in place and assess their effectiveness.
Balance is the key, and Clark County at this point appears to be on the right track. Perhaps the most impressive item from the long list of good economic news is that the region is attractive to established businesses. In recent months, Portland-based Banfield Pet Hospital announced that it would bring its corporate headquarters and 600 employees next year to Vancouver; Integra, a telecommunications provider, announced it will move to the former Hewlett-Packard campus in east Vancouver; and Evergreen Plastic Container said it would move from North Portland to a Vancouver site. Part of the attraction for those companies is the overall quality of life they can provide for their employees, helping them to retain good workers and attract new ones in the future.
Clark County’s economy is growing, regaining its footing more assuredly than most areas throughout the country. And that certainly is worth celebrating.