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The brighter side of South County economic development

Last week, the Columbia County Economic Team, a consortium composed of private businesses, nonprofits and governmental agencies formed in 2010 with the purpose of energizing economic development in Columbia County, released its 2012 annual report. The 22-page document outlines ongoing initiatives and strategies — including business attraction, growth, expansion and retention — intended to position Columbia County and move it forward as the economy begins its recovery.

And though it’s a little too early to fully gauge the success of CCET’s endeavors, a few positives occurring in 2012 warrant mention:

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  • Oregon Aero, a Scappoose-based manufacturing and engineering aerospace company, broke ground in September on a 22,000 square foot, expanding production capabilities at Scappoose Industrial Airpark. The facility, a $1.5 million hangar, had been financed through the Port of St. Helens and state of Oregon, and will provide for R&D operations and manufacturing for aviation seating systems and aircraft interior upgrades.

  • Chemical company Dyno Nobel, in Columbia City, executed approximately $30 million in capital improvements as part of its summer 2012 turnaround initiative. The improvements were made to increase operation and energy efficiencies and to help expand capacity to serve the emerging market for diesel exhaust fluid.
  • ORPET kicked off operations at its state-of-the-art recycling plant in St. Helens. The $11 million plant employs 25 people with aspirations to double that figure, and is responsible for recycling 90 percent of Oregon’s plastic bottles, according to the annual report.
  • On the small business front, CCET’s partnership with Microenterprise Services of Oregon, a Portland-based nonprofit, resulted in small business access to $80,000 that otherwise would not have been available.
  • These are just a handful of positive economic advances, and there are more on the horizon.

    Most promising is the economic potential locked up in Scappoose Industrial Airpark, for which CCET recognized the city of Scappoose and developer Ed Freeman of Airpark Development LLC with the Economic Development Initiative of the Year award at Monday’s Scappoose City Council meeting.

    In 2013, we very much would like to see an end to the misguided attempts to sideline the long-envisioned growth at the airport. State planning officials have weighed in on the proposed urban growth boundary, as have local residents, multiple times. It’s not an effort that should be prohibited by a handful of opponents who are using glacial court processes as a delay tactic.

    The airport represents nearly three decades of discussion and planning, and is arguably the best near-term chance Columbia County has for realizing a new generation of family-wage jobs, right here in our own back yard. It should be embraced, not scuttled.

    Other information recently released includes studies initiated through the St. Helens Economic Development Corporation in partnership with the Americorps-based Main Street Program.

    Perhaps most interesting of the studies’ results, despite how obvious it might seem, is the potential for St. Helens to grow.

    The documents show that for every $1 in expected retail spending in St. Helens, only 80 cents is actually spent. Also, there is a $59 million gap between retail demand ($281 million) and retail supply ($222 million).

    In light of the recent developments at the Boise Inc. mill and the very large question mark hovering over Cascades Tissues Group’s operations at the mill, it’s important to keep perspective on the promising activities, often occurring behind the scenes, helping to positively shape Columbia County’s economic future.

    In an interview with The Spotlight regarding tourism efforts in St. Helens, businessman Eric Dahlgren pointed out that tourism is only one piece of the puzzle as far as transforming perceptions outside of Columbia County.

    “I see one component of the tourism thing is to sort of promote an awareness of St. Helens and to build a positive image of this area, especially South County, that would entail people coming out here,” he said.

    We couldn’t agree more, and are excited for the many projects and efforts at positively transforming Columbia County to take even greater shape in 2013.