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An important way an individual can change their future is by getting a good education. When you compare Cowlitz County to the rest of the state has we have a very low percentage of adults with a four-year college degree. Across the state there are 32.9% of the adults that have a four-year Bachelors of Arts degree but in Cowlitz County it’s 15.9%. But what does this really mean? The backbone of the economy for many years has been manufacturing, timber, and construction. With the last recession manufacturing took a hit and has slowly rebounded but there still 1100 jobs that have disappeared either through automation, increased production or other economic factors.  The County does have a higher number of workers with Associate of Arts degrees and many that are trained in the pulp and paper industry and will find comparable jobs with the proposed methanol plant at the Port of Kalama. Lower Columbia College and local high schools continue collaboration to provide career training outside of a college degree track. Workers are beginning to realize that they can have a good job without having a college degree. Apprenticeships and other job training programs are vital to the today’s workers.

The average hourly wage in Cowlitz County of $20.85 compares well against the non-metropolitan balance of state at $20.15. The median income continues to follow fall short from the state median income and the years 2013-2015 saw little change in local median income. The 2015 Cowlitz County median income was $47,452 compared to the Washington State’s $61,062.

For many years the unemployment rate has been steadily 2% higher than the Washington State rate. In 2016 we were at 7.2% unemployment compared to Washington’s rate of 5.2%. As many in the community know the unemployment rate does not take into account those who have given up looking for work or had to settle for part-time employment. The under employed and employment rate (U-6) of Cowlitz County as set by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is 10.4% which is a truer picture for the economy and family’s employment situations. It should be noted that in 2010 the U-6 rate for Cowlitz County was 19.5%. Economic recovery is now beginning to give way to economic vitality.

Projects proposed for the ports of Longview, Kalama and Woodland can bring more than $4 billion in new construction, 3000 jobs during the construction and over 400 jobs when the plants are operational. The permitting process has been arduous and long especially for the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal project.  Our environmental and regulatory standards are so rigorous that it is unlikely that KapStone or Nippon would even be able to build similar facilities in Washington State today. Local government, economic development advocates, and the public need to work together for balancing jobs and protecting the environment.

Unfortunately, poverty by individuals and families continues to haunt Cowlitz County. More than one out of every six residents lives in poverty, 17.5% for adults and 24.2% children and adolescents under 18. Poverty is easily one of the adverse childhood experiences that can create trauma in one’s life. Housing, food, healthcare, and transportation all require money. If you are poor you are likely faced with difficult decisions about priorities in spending on what you can and cannot afford. Education becomes key not only for learning but for getting a better job and making a better income. 

A concern by local business has been the drop in the number of young adults between 18 and 34 who live in the county. Speculation is they leave for college and never come back. Another way to look at it is they don't see the opportunity in Cowlitz County and they leave to find it elsewhere. Economic vitality can help keep young adults in the county. The youthfulness of these workers is important with so many other jobs being dominated by older workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 33.2% of educators are over 55 years of age, as are 28.6% of those working in manufacturing and 32.5% in transportation and warehouse services. These figures are higher than the state average. When these workers retire will there be younger workers to take their place is a question that needs to be addressed.

Call to Action - Personal: 
  • Support local businesses by shopping at local businesses
  • Practice debt management and asset building
  • Support volunteer efforts for job training and basic skills
Call to Action - Community: 
  • Continue efforts of Cowlitz EDC to implement quality of place
  • Encourage businesses to hire local workers
  • Provide internships and training positions in local businesses for students
  • Include basic employment skills training in career development training programs
  • Work with employers to allow employees to attend college classes during work hours
  • Encourage public/private investments in community development projects
Call to Action - Policy Makers: 
  • Encourage expansion of business and recreation opportunities with Mt. St. Helens
  • Create more  living wage jobs
  • Promote state business incentives and tax exemption
  • Fund STEM (Scientific, Technical, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills training in local schools
  • Support efforts to build and maintain affordable housing
  • Ensure collaboration between colleges and schools to offer vocational training programs
  • Limit expansion of check cashing/quick loan businesses

Success Stories

Mount Saint Helens Highway/SR 504 Corridor
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The transfer of ownership of the U.S. Forest Service’s SR504 power line to Cowlitz PUD is expected to open the Mount Saint Helens Highway corridor to economic development. The power line was owned by the Forest Service since the eruption in 1980, and they were not able to provide public power to other entities. With the completion of the transfer to Cowlitz PUD, power will be available to all, a necessary step for the economic revitalization of the area.

Port of Kalama
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Attracting NW Innovation Works $1.8 billion methanol project, a $200 million expansion project at the Temco grain terminal, which included a $7 million rail expansion project paid for by the Port, and working with the City of Kalama to annex property for the creation of the Spencer Creek Business Park along Kalama River Road at the former site of the Kalama Fairgrounds, are all projects recently completed or underway at the Port of Kalama. These businesses all invest in the community and provide family wage jobs for trained employees. To promote quality of place and a healthy community, the Port of Kalama is currently creating Haydu Park. This park features baseball, softball and soccer fields, tennis courts, picnic area, riding area, and a new expo building for use by the Kalama Fair and other activities.

Longview Downtown Revitalization
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Attractive sidewalks with pavers, colored concrete crosswalks, pedestrian bulb-outs, new trees, and additional street lighting, irrigation and other features were added to a five block stretch of Commerce Avenue in Longview last year. Calling the $1.8 million project “a re-investment in our community” the project should encourage people to visit downtown, stay longer and come pack more often. Attracting new businesses, creating jobs and improving the lives of residents and businesses already in the area are all benefits of the downtown beautification. During the construction phase of the project, coordinating with businesses to minimize disruption and maintain accesses to local businesses was given a large amount of attention and was said to be successful. The streetscape of the 1300 block of Commerce Avenue is next to see improvements underway by year’s end.

Castle Rock America in Bloom
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On any given day, members of the Castle Rock America in Bloom Team can be found planting and caring for the hanging baskets, planters and beautiful landscaping features for which it has become known nationally. As part of the town’s vision for its future, the Bloom Team has helped turn what many could describe as bare, muddy or ugly into beautifully landscaped areas alive with flowers, native plants, art and other features. Hanging baskets and planters line the streets and the effort is bringing visitors to the community. The flowers are definitely an effort embraced by the whole community. The businesses sponsor and water the baskets in front of their place of business, high school students built planter boxes and create the hanging baskets, volunteers turn out for clean up days and planting days no matter the weather and because with the flowers comes a sense of pride and ownership, everyone works together to keep the whole community looking nice. These efforts have not gone unnoticed by those outside the community. This past year, America in Bloom presented Castle Rock Bloom Team Leader, Nancy Chennault with its 2014 Community Champion Award at its national symposium in Philadelphia. The city also earned the Best Hanging Baskets/Containers Award and received Special Recognition for Floral Displays. Its Jackson Hole storm water retention pond renovation also received a Special Mention.

Castle Rock Downtown Development
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More than 30% of storefronts in downtown Castle Rock stood vacant a few years ago. Today, less than 10% are empty. The difference can be attributed almost entirely to the city, business owners, community members, schools and volunteers such as America in Bloom, working together to create a city they can be proud of, seen in well maintained streets, cared for store fronts, beautiful landscaping and flowers everywhere. The change started as a grassroots effort among local businesses to redo Cowlitz Street and draw people to town. This vision led to improved or new trails, parks, and boat launch, even a mountain biking complex. Stamped concrete sidewalks that resemble wooden planks and river rock at the intersections were built, street lighting was added from the trails through downtown, and everywhere there are landscape features, highlighting all kinds of northwest plants including roses, mountain hemlock, daffodils, crocus and the town’s signature red tulip. Infrastructure under the street was improved, making them bigger and installing conduit so future technology could be implemented without tearing up the roads. Owners have taken pride in this and want to be a part of the whole picture, so many have painted and made their own storefronts look good. Plus businesses sponsor planters in front of their business and take care of watering them. The hanging baskets are labeled with the name of the student who grew it, so there is a pride of ownership. Also, those involved in new construction, even along the freeway, have voluntarily taken it upon themselves to look like they belong in Castle Rock.