Sean Clark knows he has a challenging role as the new Port of Columbia County Executive Director following his appointment in October by the five member port board.
Clark had been acting as interim executive director since the resignation of Douglas Hayes. Hayes resigned in late September and has been the focus of a port and police investigation of 'possible misuse' of port funds.
In a one-on-one interview with the Chief, we asked if Clark felt the port has suffered an image challenge following Hayes resignation and the port and police investigation into the possible misuse of port funds.
“I don’t think we have anything bad associating with the port and I don’t believe people think poorly of us, necessarily,” he said. “I am just going to continue on with what we have been doing trying to foster economic opportunities and bring some jobs.”
Clark said the port has added controls following the investigation.
“As part of our process we have auditing and financial controls in place so nothing like this will happen again,” he said.
Clark said he has a list of main priorities as executive director.
“We have a vacant hanger building at the Scappoose Airpark that we actually built for a tenant that ended up not surviving the COVID issue, so we have that building available,’ He said. “We have our new business development and real estate manager on board and part of her duties will be getting that building filled and working on landing other new prospects.”
Clark is also focusing on the McNulty Creek Industrial Park in St. Helens.
He said the port is working with a Portland firm that is expanding its operations and could possibly locate at the industrial park.
“We eventually plan a campus of light industrial buildings there,” he said. “The businesses would have to fit with the character of the county. We are not going to just take the first thing that comes along. It has to be a good fit for the port.”
The port is currently marketing approximately 40 acres at the McNulty Creek Industrial Park.
Clark said despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the port continues to work through Business Oregon and social media options to seek opportunities to expand operations and jobs at the port properties.
“A lot of times its tire kickers,” he said. “We have been using Zoom (electronic video connections) with prospect tenants.”
As international travel begins to loosen with the easing of pandemic restrictions, Clark said he is hopeful the port’s new business development manager will participate in trade shows and other events to lure businesses from the Pacific Rim.
“Having the worldwide web is definitely helping people to find us,” he said.
Clark is also hopeful that the port’s improvements at the Scappoose Bay Marina will continue, which includes updating the boat launch and separating the kayaks and motorboats.
“Kayaking has increased in popularity so much because it is such a nice area down there,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of kayak traffic.”
Clark is also keeping a close watch on Port Westward, where the port generates 40% of its revenue.
“We are waiting for the results of the appeal on the county commission’s approval of the rezone,” he said. “So we will continue to navigate that process. Once that is resolved we hope to develop land out there.”
Development of the NEXT operations at Port Westward is also important for the county and the region, Clark said.
“We are actively working with NEXT as they go through the permitting process,” he said. “The public process is huge and NEXT has been really good in having public sessions. The public engagement is really the touch point.”
Clark said his biggest challenge is to help keep the port’s momentum going forward, working with the port’s partners and strengthening his staff, which would include the new development-real estate manager and possibly a project manager.
According to Clark, past port issues have been limited for development and recruiting.
“Getting the staff right will hopefully help resolve those issues,” he said.
Clark is no stranger to the Port of Columbia County.
After his family moved from the Portland area, he grew up in Goble and his father worked at the Beaver generating plant. During the summers, Clark would help his dad cut firewood on the property and work on the docks.
Following his days in high school, Clark became a utility worker at the plant during the summer before he went off to college. He also worked two summers in forestry in the area.
“Everything came full circle when I came back to work in 2014 as Port Westward terminal manager,” Clark said.
In 2016 he became the port’s North County Terminal Operations Manager. In May of this year, he was appointed additional duties as the port’s deputy executive director. Clark was appointed as executive director by the Port of Columbia County Board in late October.
Clark brings more than 12 years of port experience and an extensive background in logistics and maritime management to his new position. Prior to joining the Port of Columbia County, he was the Harbor Master and Facility Security Officer at the Port of Kalama in Washington.
Clark said one of the key rewards as executive director will be retaining people who want to live and work in Columbia County.
“I fully intend to make sure the port is here for our 100-year anniversary and that the port will continue with everything in place and continues to succeed,” he said. “That is the important thing. Economic development is what we do.”
Clark’s starting salary is set at $131,000 a year and to be reviewed in six months, according to port records.
For more information, contact the Port of Columbia County at 503-397-2888.