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Cowlitz County Courthouse by Chetsford via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Cowlitz Economic Development Council, WA – Economic Development Strategic Plan

Challenge

Located in southwestern Washington along the Columbia River, Cowlitz County built a manufacturing-based economy from its roots in the timber and shipping industries. Global economic changes accelerated by the Great Recession meant the sectors most suited to the region’s traditional strengths—a strong network of natural resource-based companies supported by a specialized workforce and favorable electric rates—were also among the least likely to be making new investments. For the County’s business recruitment and expansion efforts to succeed, a new understanding of its competitive position in the Pacific Northwest was required.

Response

The Cowlitz Economic Development Council (CEDC) engaged TIP Strategies to prescribe a new, more nuanced approach to economic development in the county. Defining the county’s competitive advantages and identifying its best opportunities for expansion were the primary focus of the planning process. In addition to an economic assessment and benchmarking analysis, the consulting team combined input from a broad cross-section of citizens and interest groups to assemble a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for the county. Along with specific programmatic recommendations, the resulting strategic plan provided guidance on traditional and non-traditional targeted business sectors. These targets included smaller specialized manufacturing firms, an expanded local healthcare cluster, advanced logistics and distribution companies, and professional and technical service enterprises. Recommendations in support of these targets included improving existing industrial sites to make Cowlitz County more competitive within the region and establishing an employment center with tech/flex space along the Interstate 5 corridor to attract investment from white collar employers. Moreover, TIP provided marketing strategies for the CEDC to guide its recruitment efforts, emphasizing target markets within the greater Portland region, as well as China, Japan, and South Korea. Finally, TIP assisted the CEDC and local allies in better understanding the importance of quality of place in attracting skilled talent to make the county more competitive with Portland and its northern suburbs.

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