Friday, December 10, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

Study Here, Remain Here

For decades, Clark County and Southwest Washington sent our best and brightest students away to get their college degrees. In fact, prior to Washington State University establishing a presence here in 1989, there was no local option for a four-year degree.

So off they went.

Since that time, we’ve learned many of those students find opportunities in other states and don’t come back. That’s a significant fact in light of a study released last week by ECONorthwest of Portland.

The study, commissioned by five Oregon-based business groups on the health of the region’s economy, tied Clark County’s economic condition directly to the health of the Portland economy. Researchers pointed out more than half-a-dozen factors contributing to the current economic conditions from per capita income, to education and quality of life. They compared the Portland market to three benchmark communities: Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis. Other than quality of life, which the study says is insufficient on its own to sustain a recovery effort, the Portland region is significantly behind in all of the other areas.

Education (specifically, funding for primary and secondary education) was one of the factors identified in the study as a reason the region has fared so poorly during the recession compared to the benchmark communities.

While the ECONorthwest study didn’t specifically address the percentage of the workforce with a college or higher-level education, that is another factor experts are saying relates directly to the reason Clark County is slow to recover jobs.

Slightly more than one-fourth of adults 25 and older in Clark County have a four-year degree or better. In the Portland-metro area, that percentage is more than 10 percent higher (though at just over 36 percent, it is lower than the benchmark cities).

The message: the better-educated remain employed and find work sooner than those with less education. Certainly not an unfamiliar message here, in fact it’s exactly the message used by advocates for WSU Vancouver nearly 25 years ago.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of folks graduated from high school here and went off to college without returning to Clark County?

Clearly, one of the reasons for not returning is a lack of job opportunity, even in good times. However, that points to another of the study’s findings, that the region has a number of strong traded-sector industries with room to grow. That bodes well for Clark County.

Whether these industries are here and looking for growing room, or they are recruited here because of our location relative to the Pacific Rim, Clark County has the land, the transportation infrastructure, a vibrant port and a ready workforce now supported by a four-year, research university.

Clark County is well positioned to be much less dependent on the rest of the region as we recover from the past two years. As we are successful, we will create more and more reasons for the best and brightest to study here and to remain here.


Julia Maglione said...

The East Vancouver Business Association (EVBA) has long supported the notion of keeping our students here for college as a way to grow our base of educated future employees.

To-date, the group has donated more than $70,000 to scholarships for students to attend Clark College and WSU Vancouver. Our scholarship recipients this year will be studying Electrical Engineering, Nursing and Civil Engineering.

The EVBA August 5, 2011 golf tournament will be our 10th annual event to continue raising funds. Learn more at

Julia Maglione
Communications Director, EVBA