Like a musician in Nashville, an actor in Hollywood or a writer in New York, there’s a stretch of highway in north Clark County that’s waiting to be discovered.
The area’s tireless promoters don’t expect to wait much longer for recognition.
“We’re now, and we’re next,” proclaims Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart.
The Discovery Corridor has been hiding in plain view for some time now. First designated in 1999, the corridor stretches along Interstate 5 from Washington State University Vancouver to the Cowlitz casino now under construction. Since then, the region and the nation have endured at least two economic downturns and recoveries. While growth in the county continues, it’s here that local leaders imagine the jobs of the future.
“There’s tremendous pressure on this area to grow,” Port of Ridgefield CEO Brent Grening said. “Residential is the first wave, and you’ve been seeing that. Industrial is way up year-over-year. Commercial and retail may be lagging a bit, but we think that’s coming, too.”
Stuart and Grening drove a group of local and state officials on a journey through the corridor earlier this month to “let the corridor speak for itself,” Grening said. “A lot of what you’re going to see wasn’t here 10 years ago.”
Grening and other business boosters believe the lush green spaces and farmland of north Clark County will someday make way for buildings full of paycheck-producing jobs and parking lots for workers.
“Seattle has the technology corridor, which ran from Bothell to Boeing,” Grening said. “That brought thousands of jobs — Seattle just exploded out that direction. That’s when I began to see this.”
Readying the corridor has taken cooperation among the port and cities. Millions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure projects to better prepare Ridgefield, La Center, Salmon Creek and Battle Ground for a wave of employers. New I-5 interchanges, roundabouts and bridges will go a long way toward attracting those employers, officials said.
“When you look at our interchange and how it’s been able to spur economic development, certainly (others are) looking at similar opportunities,” Stuart said.
The Discovery Corridor has already seen job creation at such places as Dollar Tree’s distribution center, United Natural Foods Inc., Parr Lumber and Agave Denim.
But for now, the future homes of a new Clark College campus and a PeaceHealth medical center are fields, and the future Department of Fish and Wildlife regional headquarters is a pile of dirt.
“A year from now we should be able to have a meeting there,” Grening said.
Currently underway is the Cowlitz casino, which the tribe hopes to eventually expand to include other retail and entertainment options after it opens next spring. That could lead to supporting services and retailers locating just outside the reservation as the area becomes a regional draw.
As for industry and other potential businesses, officials are trying to recruit medical device makers, research and development firms, composites and advanced materials manufacturers, software and technology companies and education.
At the southern end of the Discovery Corridor, expansion plans are brewing at WSUV to help fill those future jobs.
The Port of Ridgefield’s big upcoming initiative in the corridor will be in dark fiber, a high-speed fiber optic network to keep the corridor connected and lure businesses looking for existing infrastructure.
“This is a game of capital; this is a game of putting capital in play in a timely manner,” Grening said. “Public-private partnerships are key to that.”