Industrial lands study nears end

Hood River County maps properties that can aid business growth

June 1, 2005

Hood River County Commission Chair Rodger Schock strongly believes that environmentally friendly manufacturers are the “bread and butter” of a community.

He has spent the past several months championing for more of a local focus on job creation. Schock is optimistic that other public officials will get on the same bandwagon once they become aware of the facts.

And he will soon be armed with data that reveals the development potential on all public and private industrial sites. That study is being performed by Hood River County Economic Development Coordinator Bill Fashing and began several months ago. Fashing is attempting to determine how many of the existing 900 industrial acres within the county are usable and available.

“My goal is to have a thorough inventory of both raw and developed lands by mid-June,” he said.

Fashing decided to undertake the project after both state and local officials became concerned about a potential shortage of “shovel ready” industrial land. While he has been compiling the inventory, Schock has been initiating conversations among government agencies about the need to attract new firms and provide room for existing businesses to expand.

On a parallel track, the cities of Hood River and Cascade Locks, along with their respective port districts, have chipped in to pay the $22,000 cost for a study of affordable housing. Dave Meriwether, county administrator, expects research performed by the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department to highlight both cost and population projections throughout the Mid-Columbia. Those figures are anticipated to be released by the end of June and will help officials develop a strategy to provide low to middle income workers with adequate living accommodations.

“This really all ties together. W3e are trying to develop both plans so that we can make some long-term decisions for the future of our communities,” said Meriwether.

Meanwhile, the Port of Hood River is continuing with its long-standing mission to provide more job opportunities. The public entity is nearing completion of the Wasco Street business park and has stopped planning for mixed-use development of the waterfront to capitalize on the existing industrial zoning.

The Hood River City Council is also taking a hard look at the issue as it struggles to balance the 2005-06 fiscal year budget with a variety of tax and fee increases.

In the City of Cascade Locks, the mood is hopeful that a tribal gaming casino will one day be built within the port-owned industrial park. If the project proposed by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is approved, it will open up the 60 remaining acres of buildable properties for development. Currently, the park is accessible only over an at-grade railroad crossing, which has deterred business growth because of safety concerns and traffic delays. The tribes have agreed to spend $20 million for a new freeway interchange that will correct that problem.

“I would just like to see all of us sitting down at the same table and having a discussion about these issues once we have all of the information in front of us,” said Schock.

He began to advocate for ready-to-build industrial sites once he became aware of the great need for local employment. Schock said more than 2,000 workers from the Mid-Columbia applied for 135 jobs at Cardinal IG in Odell after it opened in 2004. And when Homeshield, a supplier of window components for Cardinal, announced last winter that it was forced to relocate from Hood River to The Dalles in order to grow, Schock felt the time had come to act; especially since Homeshield was only one of several companies who have left the area in recent years because of a dearth of affordable industrial land. The need to create those parcels was listed in the county’s economic development action plan of 2001 but had not received as much attention as Schock believed it merited.

Hood River Port Director Dave Harlan has long believed that a greater emphasis should be given to attracting more manufacturing firms into the county. He said a healthy employment base is made up of a diversity of enterprises and companies are more likely to settle into the county if they see other firms succeeding. He said a study performed by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce shows that 100 manufacturing jobs in a community lead to 415 new jobs and seven additional retail outlets.

He said the book “Manufacturing Works: The Vital Link Between Production and Prosperity,” by Fred Zimmerman and Dave Beal, explores the issue further.

That publication noted that local and county taxes declined dramatically with an increase in manufacturing.

Communities with 10 percent of their jobs in the industrial sector averaged $1,000 per capita in taxes; those with 30 percent averaged $650 and a 40 percent lowered the average to $562.

Harlan said for each $1 in taxes paid by a manufacturer, only 28 cents is needed for service provision, while residential growth requires about 16 cents more than the $1 tax payment.

“When opportunity comes our way we need to be in a position to act. That’s where we’re trying to get with this new take on the waterfront,” said Harlan. “There are certainly many positive things to recommend this community to an employer, but if the company can’t expeditiously find a place to do business, they are not going to come here.”

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