by: Darryl Swan OPEN FOR BUSINESS – After decades of debate, this property near the Scappoose Airpark – which is some of the most controversial land in Columbia County – is poised to be reborn as an industrial heartland.

Of Tillamook, Clatsop and Columbia counties, only Columbia County's wages have declined over the three-year period from 2008 to 2010.

In 2008, the average wage was $33,115. As of the last data set, it's $32,338.

'The other counties in the area, a couple of them dropped a tiny bit in 2009, but bumped back up in 2010,' said Shawna Sykes, a workforce analyst for WorkSource Oregon.

Coupled with unemployment data for Columbia County - and, despite what some critics say, the reported unemployment figures account for those whose unemployment benefits have expired and the self-employed, and are in fact configured from household surveys and not just unemployment filings - it's clear the Great Recession is still taking its toll locally.

In May, unemployment in Columbia County only marginally improved, from 10.3 to 10.2 percent, though that it is a stark improvement over last year's showing of 12.3 percent.

Still, job-creating industries in pulp and paper manufacturing continue to wane, as evidenced in this week's article about St. Helens' capitulation to reduce Boise Inc.'s water rates due to the faltering mill's diminished production.

There is a bright spot, however. In Scappoose, wages actually trended upward in 2009, Sykes said. And that's not the only sign of improvement. As visible from Highway 30 at the Havlik Drive intersection, dirtwork is occurring on Havlik and Second Street in anticipation of new business construction. For now, a Fultano's Pizza shop and a Les Schwab Tire Center are in the works.

Yes, both of these industries - pizza shops and, certainly, a tire center of the same name - are already represented in south Columbia County, so the construction, to some degree, represents a split in the market for those local businesses already serving those goods.

But it is resulting in construction jobs and helping to define Scappoose as it claws its way out of the recession. It's also a sign of investment in Scappoose's future. Part of that investment, we believe, is the promise of new industrial growth at Scappoose Industrial Airpark.

As Jeff Kemp, chair of the South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, opined in last week's chamber newsletter (see Letters), there is an initiative underway to scuttle the City Council's approval of an urban growth boundary expansion proposal.

Between now and when the vote on the initiative occurs, we will endeavor to inform our readers about both sides of the argument - those who favor keeping the UGB at present size, and those who favor adopting the proposed plan that would largely accommodate new industry interests at the airport.

Regardless of the promise of more rhetoric on this issue, however, it's clear Columbia County - more than any county in Northwest Oregon - is struggling to right itself from the economic fallout of the last four years. For this reason, we believe Kemp, a St. Helens-based resident and business owner - is spot-on with his appeal.

The stakes for Scappoose Industrial Airport are bigger than just Scappoose. They're important for the whole of Columbia County. Airpark Development LLC investors Ed Freeman and Joe Weston have indicated their intentions to deliver on that promise, and so far we have no reason to doubt their intentions.

But if they didn't know it before now, let's reiterate our expectations. New industry. New jobs. New promise for Columbia County.

It's time to deliver.

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