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Columbia County economic team supports UGB expansion

by: Stover E. Harger III

The Columbia County Economic Team is on the record supporting the proposed Scappoose Urban Growth Boundary expansion. This is a critical step toward the most positive change in our county's economic landscape in decades. This is, in short, a historic opportunity.

While Columbia County has had some success in attracting and nurturing businesses that provide family-wage jobs to county residents, it has lacked a center around which a home-grown economy can grow. Scappoose Industrial Airpark has long been viewed as that much-needed hub. So much so that it has been called out as such in both the City of Scappoose's and Columbia County's comprehensive plans for more than a decade. Moving forward with the UGB expansion is a necessary step toward providing a strong local economy, which is the first requirement for a truly livable community.

Scappoose Industrial Airpark provides the south county a strong advantage over other similarly-situated communities across not only Oregon but the country as a whole. It gives south county an identity and represents the center around which a specific industry can thrive. Airport-related development cannot flourish just anywhere, and south Columbia County is an ideal seedbed. Not only does it provide the necessary airport facility but it is close to a major metropolitan area and within the regional transportation grid.

This is an opportunity that has been decades in the making, and it is essential that our community perseveres through to the end.

If there is a choice, it is between existing on the marginal fringe of a large urban complex and dependent on larger neighbors for services and struggling to maintain adequate schools and urban amenities, or becoming a center of economic activity with a gravity of its own and the ability to generate local jobs and local resources. The choice is between growth and stagnation.

Columbia County's unemployment rate currently stands at 10.4 percent, a full percentage point higher than the statewide average. In addition, a staggering 74 percent of the county's workforce commutes out of the county every day. Developing a cluster of aviation-related jobs in Scappoose will give many of those outbound commuters a chance to work closer to home.

The businesses currently located at Scappoose Industrial Airpark agree on the high quality of the local workforce. Several of those businesses would like to grow their local operations but need space to do so. Space that is not currently available. Expanding the UGB is necessary to keep those thriving businesses in our community.

Recently, the South Columbia County enterprise zone was expanded to include the Scappoose Industrial Airpark. Enterprise zones have been established across Oregon to encourage the creation of new jobs, especially in smaller communities. An enterprise zones is not a tax giveaway. Nor does it benefit developers. A business owner must invest in his plant and equipment and increase his employee head-count by a minimum of 10 per cent to qualify for a limited tax abatement on his new investment. Failure to meet the target means that any abatement must be repaid. Enterprise zones work because they encourage new private investment and new jobs.

The Columbia County Economic Team was launched as a public-private partnership dedicated to developing the potential to attract new businesses to the area and to nurture those that are already here. Its members include representatives from Columbia County businesses and local cities. We recognize the critical importance of realizing the potential that has existed for an airport-related cluster around one of the county's most significant economic resources.

After decades of vision, planning, false starts and some degree of acrimony, the time to move forward is finally here.

- Steve D. Ruege, President and CEO, Composites Universal Group