Dennis tapped to lead economic development group

Camas Mayor plans to resign to accept newly created position

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Paul Dennis

Camas Mayor Paul Dennis and the company he owns have been selected to lead the newly formed Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association.

Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioner Mark Lampton said Monday that Dennis, principal of Cascade Planning Group, rose to the top after three finalists were interviewed on Friday. His proposed appointment to the position of economic development director of the CWEDA is pending the approval of the Camas and Washougal City Councils, and the Port of Camas-Washougal Commission.

There were a total of seven applicants for the position. The field was then narrowed to four, which in addition to Cascade Planning Group included Kris Holt of Carson City, Nev., Res Publica Consulting of Portland, and Steve Czarnecki of Elk Grove, Calif. One of the applicants dropped out before the beginning of the interview process.

Lampton said Dennis’ experience, knowledge and skills set him apart.

“We feel we have selected the person who can hit the ground running and bring us results,” he said. “We are really confident in this decision to hire Paul. This has been an open and honest process. Anybody could have applied.”

Vancouver-based E.D. Hovee & Company will serve in a supporting role.

Dennis has worked in the fields of economic development and planning since June 1990, when he was hired by E.D. Hovee & Company. In 2002 he accepted a position with Portland-based Leland Consulting Group, and then left to form his own company in 2003.

Over the years, Dennis has worked on a variety of projects including site planning and research work leading up to the opening of Skamania Lodge, master planning for ports, and site planning and evaluation work for companies including Northwest Packing, Shelby SuperCars, Inc., and Samsung Electronics.

Dennis, 42, holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Western Washington University, with an emphasis in finance, econometrics and statistics.

Dennis has been Camas’s top elected official for nearly eight years and also served as a council member for six years. He said he plans to resign as mayor soon — before the completion of his second term, which runs out at the end of the year. He said in the meantime he will be working with council members and city staff to create a transition plan.

“I just want to make this as seamless as possible, so there is no void in leadership,” Dennis said, adding that some duties could be assumed by Mayor Pro-tem Scott Higgins, at least in the short term.

Because Dennis knew he’d have to leave his mayoral seat if selected for the EDA position, he said making the decision to apply was not easy.

“That was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make,” he said Monday. “It was a conflicting thing to go through, but I had to look at it and think long term. To have this opportunity come up in the same area I live — that doesn’t happen all of the time.”

Although Dennis was involved in the initial discussions about and push to form the new entity, he said in an effort to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, he stepped away from participating in any meetings or other discussions pertaining to the Economic Development Association “months ago.”

“I wanted it to be as open a process as possible,” Dennis said when it was first announced that he was a candidate for the EDA position. “I didn’t want there to appear to be any conflict of interest.”

The process of creating a Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association began last fall. The organization will have a strictly local focus, aimed at expanding existing businesses and bringing new businesses and jobs to the east Clark County area. It will exist independently, have a board of directors, and be governed by all three entities — with the Port serving as the lead jurisdiction.

A draft inter-local agreement between the three agencies to officially create the CWEDA will be discussed during a joint meeting on Monday, March 23, The final document could then be presented for approval by each individual entity during their respective meetings the week of June 6. If all goes as planned, a contract would then be drawn up with Dennis and Cascade Planning Group.

As part of the 2011 budgets, the Port has earmarked $100,000 toward the effort, while Camas and Washougal will contribute $50,000 each.

The Economic Development Association’s first year budget is expected to be approximately $175,000.

Lampton said the creation of the new Camas-Washougal based economic development group is timely, particularly with the recent resignation of Columbia River Economic Development Council President Bart Phillips and speculation that the nonprofit economic development agency for Southwest Washington could be undergoing a change in direction, focus and structure.

“You have to have an advocate for each entity,” Lampton said. “The needs of Camas-Washougal are different than the needs of Ridgefield and Battle Ground. We look different.

“We need to elevate ourselves and take charge and plan our destiny,” he continued. “We can’t leave that to someone else. If we can create a vital community that brings prosperity, we have done our jobs.”