Columbia County Economic Team is officially without a director.

Interim Executive Director Brian Little told the group he could step in until May 1 after former director David Stocker left last year. That date has now come and gone and despite vigorous recruiting, the team is still leaderless.

Initially created by Columbia County, the now private group functions much like the Port of St. Helens, developing property lists and courting businesses and developers to encourage economic growth in the county. As a result, there were clashes between the Port and CCET when the team first got started.

“I think the contention came about because so many folks were involved and there were so many ways it could go,” said Port Commission President Robert Keyser.

Over the years, he believes the Port and the community have seen a benefit from CCET, although there are wrinkles to be ironed out, he said.

“The question still is who takes the lead on leads,” he said. The Port and CCET have common goals and sometimes common land to fit to these development goals as well as common customers. When each go out to recruit businesses or developers, there’s the potential for overlap.

“It really hasn’t come together in the way we hoped,” Keyser said, but added that he thinks it could if the “right person” were found for the CCET director’s job. This echoes what Little told the Port Commission at a meeting April 24 when he said CCET had interviewed several people for the position but hadn’t found a good fit yet. The one candidate they did offer the job to declined.

Little said it has been harder than expected to find a qualified person although the team fielded a number of applications for the job.

To Keyser, the right person would be “as much of a collaborator as you can get.” He said the Port would be happy to step in — he suggested it could even hire someone as a Port employee to do the same job as a CCET director — but this has not been discussed. Also, the benefit of CCET is its connection to the private sector and the cities, he said.

“The Port is certainly not as up as we could be on what’s available [in terms of properties elsewhere],” Keyser said. Still, he said, referencing community relations issues with past Port directors, “I think we’re in a better position now than we were three years ago.”

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