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Editor's Notes: Et tu, Vancouver?

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Robin Doussard
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The headline on a recent ad in a Portland newspaper was as subtle as a Glenn Beck symposium on global warming: FED UP WITH TAXES? Come grow your organization in Vancouver. I can understand big, bad Chicago trying to poach, but now our friendly little neighbor across the river?

When the tax measures passed in late January, there were predictions that the new taxes would push businesses out of the state. A few rapid examples pointed to the reality of that fear. Two weeks after the vote a story in the Portland Business Journal cited several companies laying off workers or planning to move (and some had had relocation offers from other Washington cities!). Another story in the Mail Tribune reported that Medford-based ComNet was “among more than two dozen companies that have notified the Oregon Legislature of their intent to leave the state.”

Apparently not one to leave potential business on the table, the EastRidge Business Park in Vancouver placed the ad for a month in the business journal, according to Adam Roselli, a broker for Eric Fuller & Associates and EastRidge. After all, Washington only has a sales tax and Oregon’s new taxes raise rates on corporations and high-earning individuals.

Natural, Roselli is bullish on the idea that Vancouver will get some of Oregon’s companies to uproot for his lower-cost town, where he’s offering Class A office space for $19.50 a square foot. Downtown Portland can get as pricey as $28 per square foot.

But despite the aggressive advertising, Roselli said the response has been a trickle of interest, not a flood of evacuees across the river: only five calls, and three of those were from area media. “We’re not working with anyone,” Roselli said.

“But we’ve seen a lot of activities from Portland brokers who have tenants from Oregon,” he said, and added that the Columbia River Economic Development Council has had “a large influx of new inquiries.”

Jeanie Ashe, director of business recruitment for the CREDC, confirmed that her office has seen an increase in interest from Oregon businesses, but “a fair number were already planning to look at options prior to the tax votes,” Ashe said. “There have been very few calls that have been knee-jerk reactions” to the taxes.

Is her group trying to poach? “That’s just bad manners,” she said about the EastRidge ad. “We don’t actively recruit in Oregon, because we share the same resources. We are neighbors. It’s part of being a good neighbor.” Her EDC works as part of the area’s seven-county Regional Partners Council and other Oregon agencies such as the Portland Development Council.

She said she hears from Oregon businesses a “lot of uncertainty over the impact of the taxes.” But those that she talks to about relocation are doing due diligence on all aspects of the pluses and minuses of moving: labor, taxes, transportation infrastructure, the building site. “And some are very concerned about the image of doing business in Vancouver because we are an unknown,” Ashe said.

“Candidly, some companies are looking for incentives,” Ashe said, and Washington's tax incentives are more limited than Oregon's.

It’s nice to hear that some companies are being rational about the pluses — and minuses — of doing business in Oregon. Despite the heated rhetoric on our website and others, the state may not be business heaven, but it certainly isn’t hell. That would be a winter in Chicago.

Robin Doussard is Editor of Oregon Business.
 
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