The events of 2020 highlighted the importance of incorporating resiliency into economic development planning for governments at all levels. For the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum region, the need for recovery and resiliency planning predated COVID-19. Over the past five decades, residents had faced the loss of major employers due to a range of factors, including changing global trade patterns and environmental concerns. The sharp decline in employment seen between 2019 and 2020 followed 20 years of relatively stagnant employment levels. The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 also left the area facing steep declines in tourism and significant job losses in the forestry and manufacturing industries.
In response to these challenges, the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments (CWCOG) engaged TIP Strategies to devise strategies for fostering a resilient economy capable of withstanding future disruptions. Extensive data analysis, coupled with robust stakeholder engagement, provided a comprehensive picture of how businesses and the community had been impacted by COVID-19. Findings from this quantitative and qualitative research helped guide a discussion of the region’s priorities, while a review of employment trends by industry and an analysis of staffing patterns identified the most promising industry sectors for the region. From this work, six strategic priority areas emerged as the basis of the five-year recovery and resiliency strategy: workforce development, small business and entrepreneurship, placemaking and community development, tourism and outdoor recreation, infrastructure, and business development. Under each priority area, three goals were identified with actionable steps to achieve them, ensuring that Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties would be poised to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and adapt to changing economic conditions. TIP also created a resilience workbook that included planning questions, as well as local resources and services, to help CWCOG support local business leaders.