Historically, the job market in Clark County, Washington, closely tracked that of the greater Portland region. However, the county’s job growth began to diverge from that of the metropolitan area in the early 2000s. Following the Great Recession, the unemployment rate in Clark County stood among the highest in the state in 2010, with the county’s construction and manufacturing workforce particularly hard hit. Industrial restructuring throughout the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area and a slow residential and commercial market were also impacting the county’s economic growth.
In response to these conditions, the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) engaged TIP Strategies to provide a complete review of the Clark County economy and help ensure local economic development leaders were on the same page. The fundamental insight that emerged during the planning process was that Clark County needed to diversify its industry beyond manufacturing and natural resources by placing a greater focus on innovation and doing more to capitalize on the region’s information technology strengths. Addressing the enormous gap in economic opportunity between skilled and educated workers and those without high school or college degrees was an essential foundation of the strategy. With this framework in mind, connecting the county’s higher education institutions (Washington State University–Vancouver and Clark College) and its workforce partners to the efforts of the CREDC became a priority. The plan, which was unanimously adopted by the CREDC, emphasized the convergence of software and device manufacturing as a future economic engine. It also called for an aggressive and determined business development plan regarding foreign direct investment and recommended developing a business–oriented research park.