Public/Private Partnerships: Taking Action for Community Interests

Author: Carly Schaefer Published: April 14, 2015

In the world of economic development, nothing can add value to a large-scale project like a strong, mutually beneficial partnership between public and private interests. At the P3C Public-Private Partnership Conference & Expo 2015 in Dallas, Texas, I witnessed the important, community-defining results that can come from strong bonds between both public partnerships and partnerships between the public and private sectors. It was gratifying to see the ports of Ridgefield, Vancouver, and Camas-Washougal joining with the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and collaborating to stimulate job growth and investment in southwest Washington.

The genesis of my interest in public/private partnerships began at the Port of Vancouver (POV). My firm assisted our client by collaborating with the POV to combine remediation of the former Fort Vancouver Plywood facility with redevelopment for a new industrial facility. A remedial action grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) (the first for the POV) combined elements of remediation with a platform for the new facility’s operations.

At the P3C conference, it was particularly inspiring for me to take a step back and see the big-picture outcomes for the properties on display by all three ports. All three of the ports have worked to clean up sites impacted by legacy IMG_1961environmental issues. It is clear to me how the integration of the environmental remedy with redevelopment positions entities such as ports for future success. Because sites owned by all three ports were constrained by legacy environmental issues, it would have been easy to write off private investment on the properties because of the cost of environmental cleanup. However, in many cases, partnerships with Ecology proved to be the keystone element in restoring contaminated industrial property to productive use.

The efforts of the ports and CREDC to attract investment and create jobs in southwest Washington are critical and timely, especially given the strategic value of our region relative to the economy of Washington State and the Portland metropolitan area. Southwest Washington has the infrastructure, skilled workforce, and political capital to support significant economic growth for the benefit of its residents and local businesses. As these partnerships become stronger and gain visibility, we can see southwest Washington moving away from its prior status as a “bedroom” community to Portland and becoming an economic force in its own right. If we can continue to provide incentives for businesses to locate in our region with help from the public sector, we can transform unproductive and underutilized properties into high-value assets, vital to healthy and vibrant communities.