Business must grow or die, or move

Guest Column -

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state's chamber of commerce. Visit AWB on the Web at

  • Friday, October 3, 2008 4:53am
  • Opinion

It used to be that once a company put down roots in a town, they

were there for good. The city leaders who landed the “big fish” went out

looking for their next catch. After all, what company president would walk

away from a multi-million dollar facility?

Times have changed. In the good old days, land and buildings were

a big part of a company’s investment. Today, many

companies spend the bulk of their costs on

sophisticated computerized machinery that gets replaced

every five years or so with newer, faster models.

In the good old days, generations of folks in

southwest Washington worked at the Pendleton woolen mill, the

Crown Zellerbach (now Fort James) pulp and paper plant or the Alcoa (now

Vanalco) aluminum smelter. Workers stayed there until they retired or quit.

Today, high-tech companies like SEH-America, Hewlett-Packard,

Linear Technology, Wafertech, Sharp and Kyocera are more mobile. They

attract engineers, technicians and skilled workers from around the country

and are now the major employers in Vancouver.

State and local officials needs to keep that mobility in mind as

they wrestle with how to respond to Initiative 695.

For example, Vancouver and southwestern Washington could

easily lose some of these high-tech companies if the state revokes the sales

tax exemption on manufacturing machinery, equipment, replacement parts,

and research and development. The added cost to retool or expand could

force those companies to relocate out-of-state.

Another example: Recently, the City of Vancouver imposed a

building moratorium in the east county – where many of these

manufacturers are located – because I-695

eliminated money for a highway interchange at State

Route 14 and 192nd Avenue. The City lost the money, so to avoid

adding to congestion, the City Council passed the moratorium.

The moratorium not only prevents these businesses from expanding,

it also hurts their ability to attract engineers and technicians, because it

puts an end to new home construction.

To remain successful, businesses must be able to attract skilled

workers and respond quickly to changes in today’s highly competitive global


Progressive state and local officials must also keep pace with

those changes. If they drag their feet or are complacent, the businesses

they worked so hard to attract will move to places where they have a better

chance to grow and compete.

While it may be difficult to imagine a company walking away from

a multi-million dollar plant, it can happen. That’s not a threat, it’s just a

fact of life.

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