After losing 17 percent of job base in recession, Washougal celebrates ‘Opportunity Zones’

Federal program created through the Tax and Jobs Act of 2017 incentivizes economic development in distressed communities

WASHOUGAL — When the Great Recession ripped through the American economy, it took away more chunks of financial life in some areas more than others.

For example, the city of Washougal lost 17 percent of its job base in comparison to an average of 5 percent in the Portland metropolitan area.

This image shows Opportunity Zone land (highlighted in green) in Clark County. To see other designated areas throughout the state and country, and to learn more about the program, visit www.commerce.wa.gov/growing-the-economy/opportunity-zones/. Map courtesy of the U.S. Department of Commerce
This image shows Opportunity Zone land (highlighted in green) in Clark County. To see other designated areas throughout the state and country, and to learn more about the program, visit www.commerce.wa.gov/growing-the-economy/opportunity-zones/. Map courtesy of the U.S. Department of Commerce

Now, leaders in the Clark County town are heralding a positive development that could lead to economic growth in the city.

Two census tracts within Washougal have been designated as Opportunity Zones in the state of Washington. The areas represent just two of the 139 tracts in 36 counties approved by Gov. Jay Inslee for the designation.

The Opportunity Zone program was created as part of the federal Tax and Jobs Act of 2017. In essence it incentivizes private development in the select areas through special tax breaks that municipal leaders hope will lead to job creation and economic growth.

In Washougal, the zones are the port’s Steigerwald Commerce Center and Industrial Park, including sections of downtown Washougal, specifically the Bi-Mart and Pendleton Woolen Mill properties. The remaining areas of downtown Washougal extending along E Street were also included.

These maps show the location of the Opportunity Zone tracts approved as part of a federal program in Washougal. Map courtesy of Camas Washougal Economic Development Association
These maps show the location of the Opportunity Zone tracts approved as part of a federal program in Washougal. Map courtesy of Camas Washougal Economic Development Association

“This program will help strengthen the momentum we’ve created over the last seven years with aim toward increasing citizens’ quality of life, reducing commute times for residents and giving them more access to family wage jobs,” said Paul Dennis, president and CEO of the Camas Washougal Economic Development Association. “With the proper focus and investments in Washougal, CWEDA’s main goal to expand the existing base, support people, and create place will be realized in a way that truly creates an opportunity for long term economic prosperity.”

In practical terms, the Opportunity Zones allow for investors to defer payment of capital gains taxes that are invested in Qualified Opportunity Funds. The money is instead used to invest in distressed communities designated as Opportunity Zones by the governor of each state.

In the case of Washougal and the sites of the other 138 tracts in Washington, the zones were chosen by Inslee after a very competitive process.

These maps show the location of the Opportunity Zone tracts approved as part of a federal program in Washougal. Map courtesy of Camas Washougal Economic Development Association
These maps show the location of the Opportunity Zone tracts approved as part of a federal program in Washougal. Map courtesy of Camas Washougal Economic Development Association

“On behalf of our organization and local partners, we would like to thank Governor Inslee for including Washougal in the State’s Opportunity Zone program,” Dennis said.

According to a press release, the Washougal initiative was a collaborative effort between the Port of Camas-Washougal, the city of Washougal and the Camas Washougal Economic Development Association. Letters of support were provided by the city of Camas, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Clark County and the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington.

“The city of Washougal and the port have been successful in attracting state and federal funding for infrastructure in recent years and the city has updated its long term Comprehensive Plan to focus economic development efforts downtown and at the port industrial area,” according to the joint press release. “Several projects within the designated tracts are in various stages of planning, and the Opportunity Zone designation will help attract capital that will lead to development.”

To learn more about the Opportunity Zones and where they are located across the state and country, visit www.commerce.wa.gov/growing-the-economy/opportunity-zones/.

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About The Author

Eric Schwartz arrives as a reporter at Clark County Today with nearly 15 years of experience as a journalist. He most recently served five years as editor of The Chronicle newspaper in Centralia. Prior to that, he was an assistant editor, reporter and intern at the newspaper. Schwartz graduated from Forks High School on the Olympic Peninsula before attending Centralia College and Eastern Washington University, where he was the editor-in-chief of the award-winning college newspaper, The Easterner, and received the Edmund J. Yarwood award as the top performer in his class. He covered sports through a fellowship at The Tri-City Herald before taking a full-time reporting job with The Chronicle in 2007. After three years as a reporter at The Chronicle, he traveled to Kalispell, MT, and worked as a crime, courts and emergency services reporter at The Daily Inter Lake, where he won two first-place awards for spot news coverage from the Montana Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2011, he returned to The Chronicle as the assistant editor before being promoted to editor in 2013. Under his leadership, The Chronicle was the recipient of several C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Reporting, and the newspaper was twice given the General Excellence Award as the top performer in its category by the Society of Professional Journalists. Schwartz has also been the recipient of two C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for his own reporting and has garnered additional individual awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Most recently, he and his staff were honored with a Key Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government for The Chronicle’s editorials and news coverage focused on transparency in county government.

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