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City takes long view with North Hillsboro planning

Although a fresh 760 acres of land is now available for industrial development north of Hillsboro, no one should expect any groundbreaking ceremonies soon.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT  - Mark Clemons, director of Hillsboros Economic Development Department, points to a map showing the North Hillsboro area, which encompasses about 760 acres.

In March, the Oregon Legislature’s approval of House Bill 4078 — the so-called “Grand Bargain” — cleared the way for city officials to begin actively planning to open the property, most of which is now farmland, for large-scale industrial users.

All of the land is within Hillsboro’s urban growth boundary, but has not yet been annexed into the city. The area will ultimately be zoned for industrial activity, but it will take some time to find manufacturing tenants. The property is west of Brookwood, south of Highway 26, and north of Evergreen, with the western boundary being 264th Avenue.

“It will be an industrial sanctuary zone with a broad range of manufacturing, research and development and office campuses,” said Mark Clemons, director of Hillsboro’s Economic Department. “The focus is on future development. It will be developed in phases over years.”

For now, the area is generally known as North Hillsboro, but that, too, is subject to change.

“When this property first became available (for industrial activity), it was referred to as North Hillsboro,” Clemons explained. “But from a branding standpoint, when we’re talking about this property in other areas of the United States or in Asia, there’s evolving thinking. How do we represent this to the world? So we are tentatively calling it the Hillsboro Technology Park. But maybe we’ll call it the Hillsboro Industrial District for marketing on a global scale.”

‘Tremendous opportunity’

Mayor Jerry Willey sees a fortuitous future for the area.

“North Hillsboro represents a tremendous opportunity area for our city to create jobs and new investments,” said Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey. “Hillsboro will need to be globally competitive as a community to continue building a strong and vibrant place for people to live, work and recreate.

“North Hillsboro is an asset that we have to make development-ready, and it will take a creative partnership with the state, as well as our regional partners, to fully realize North Hillsboro’s potential.”

Clemons pointed out that because there is a shortage of large lots for major new industrial investments, the parcels in North Hillsboro will include minimums of 50-acre and 100-acre parcels.

“Forty percent of the acreage needs to be developed in lots larger than 50 acres, which translates into finding users who need a minimum of 50 acres,” Clemons said.

The site appears poised to compete on a global scale. Its advantages include a corporate airport, a light rail station nearby, a variety of advanced manufacturers and suppliers already in the immediate vicinity that may be linked through technology relationships, and a large amount of vacant land for development. The area also has a strong labor force with expertise in a variety of advanced industries, and it has good water and energy resources.

Clemons said the city will focus on the property’s strengths and what the city of Hillsboro has to offer.

“We’ve just started that process,” Clemons said. “To create a marketing strategy takes, sometimes, multiple years — sometimes multiple decades. With large-scale investments by global companies, you’re building relationships. This is such a resource for the city of Hillsboro, and for the state of Oregon, for that matter. This really is a state resource.”

Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck believes the area has great potential.

“It’s one of the prime locations in the state because it’s on a major artery and is clustered close to other businesses that would benefit from development,” Duyck said.

No roads in area

The picture is not all rosy, however. Challenges include the fact that most of the area is currently used for farming, so there are essentially no roads going to the parcels.

“Our initial plans call for building roads, but we have to figure out how to develop a financing and infrastructure plan that works with the demand,” Clemons said. “We don’t want to put in roads and sewer and water and then not have a user for a number of years. ‘Stranded infrastructure’ is a bad idea.”

The city hopes to build roads to the North Hillsboro properties next summer. For now, the city is still trying to purchase the necessary rights of way before any construction can begin.

Clemons added that until a specific company is ready to move in, there is no reason to put in a water line that could prove to be inadequate for the business that ultimately locates there.

“We don’t want to have to rip it out and put another water line in if it turns out to be the wrong size,” he said.

Another complicating factor is the reality that Hillsboro is in competition not only with other Oregon sites, but with locations from as far away as Singapore, for example, on the other side of the globe.

“How can we be competitive in the world market?” Clemons said. “We need to figure out over the next few months what financing plans we can put in place. Can we get private funding of infrastructure, or maybe state funding?”

Hillsboro’s economic development experts are hoping to lure businesses such as SolarWorld, Genentech and Intel — or, perhaps even more ideal, the world’s next Intel.

“What are the next technologies or emerging technologies we don’t even know about yet?” Clemons wondered. “What types of products are coming out, in biotech, pharmaceuticals, display technologies, battery technology? Part of what we want to think about is, where is the market going and how can we position ourselves for future development?”

Clemons pointed out that with the economic stakes so high, how long it might take to find the right fit is completely uncertain.

“Obviously it’s a long-term strategy,” Clemons said. “It’s a 10- to 15-year program. Or the phone could ring tomorrow and we have someone who needs 300 acres, and boom.”