Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sprawl: The Real Smart Growth

Very interesting story on the front page of today's Seattle Times on Washington's top 5 hot spots for jobs. Guess who's #1?

For years, the Vancouver area has been dismissed as hip, eco-urban Portland's dowdy sibling — the repository for all the development that couldn't be contained within Portland's tight urban-growth boundary. Local officials have sought to turn that distinction to the county's advantage.

"Clark County is still filling up, and there's lots of developable land," said Scott Bailey, the state Employment Security Department's regional labor economist for Southwest Washington. "The land-use plans have continually allowed for as much residential development as we could take. It's been 'Come on in, homebuilders.' "

Now, Bailey said, the county's population has grown enough that it can support a level of retail and services that once could only be found across the Interstate Bridge — though Oregon's siren call of tax-free shopping continues to beckon.

People who bought into the stacks of newly built homes across from Legacy Salmon Creek, for instance, can now shop at a new Best Buy store a few miles down Interstate 5. (Clark County has added 2,400 retail jobs during the current boom.)

"Now we're getting all the stores Portland has, only ours are all brand-new," said Gretchen Amacher, manager of Legacy's Family Birth Center.

One industry that helped fuel growth in the late 1990s, semiconductor manufacturing, isn't much of a factor this time around. Chipmakers shrank or closed several of the newly built plants during the recession. Employment in computer and electronics manufacturing shrank from 5,300 at the end of 2000 to 3,000 at the depth of the recession, and the sector has added just 500 jobs since then.
That's right, Vancouver has taken all the "sprawl" that snooty Portlanders turned their nose up at. (including three Wal-Mart Supercenters) and is now thriving. Remember which WSU campus is actually GROWING in enrollment? There's a lesson in there for Pullman, Whitman County and anyone who advocates "smart growth.".

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