Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday assembled a broad selection of public and private agency representatives for a wide-ranging conversation about Clatsop County's role in economic development stretching from industry to the arts.

 

Officials from the Port of Astoria, Clatsop Community College, Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, county departments, local, regional and state economic development entities and other groups discussed their own organizations' roles, ways they can improve collaboration and cooperation, as well as policies of the county that can impact their efforts.

Enterprise zones, infrastructure improvements, housing and health were all part of the discussion, which was designed not as a planning session but a sharing of information about the tools available locally, according to Board of Commissioners Chair Peter Huhtala, who told participants their input will prove useful when the board meets to discuss future goals.

"We have no illusions that government creates jobs, but we set the stage," he said.

Chamber Director Skip Hauke said at one time no fewer than 21 different entities had some role in economic development in the county. The chamber, in an effort to better focus those groups' work and revitalize its own lagging efforts, pushed for the formation of a Clatsop Economic Development Resources (CEDR), a collaborative project of the chamber, community college and the county, which provides $60,000 a year to the organization.

Kevin Leahy, director of CEDR and the college's Small Business Development Center, explained CEDR's mission of retaining, expanding and recruiting business, and noted that local statistics for job-creation and business counseling are up sharply while the rest of the state remains flat.

Clatsop Community College serves as a conduit for many other entities through partnerships with local hospitals and other programs, said President Larry Galizio. The college itself brings money into the area through the 39 percent of students who come from outside Clatsop County, he added.

Port of Astoria Property Manager Mike Weston said the port is teaming with regional and state economic development agencies and actively pursuing funding for major improvements to its pier facilities and Tongue Point, while also tackling 20 years of deferred maintenance. "Any investment in the port comes back 10 times what we put in," he said.

Commissioner-elect Sarah Nebeker and her husband Royal Nebeker, who sits on the Oregon Arts Commission, spoke on the economic impact the arts can have locally by boosting the quality of life and enhancing education. The county, with leadership by the county and other governing bodies, could obtain up to $100,000 in state funding for arts-promotion, they said.

Clatsop County Public Works Director Ed Wegner noted that the county, after a long period focused on maintenance, has in the past few years tackled a number of large capital projects directly related to economic development, including the extension of Ensign Lane in the North Coast Business Park, a fix to the yearly flooding of Highway 101 south of Seaside that is currently out for bid, and a community development plan for Westport.

Community Development Director Hiller West said the department strives to make its mandated regulatory processes as smooth as possible for developers. The department has also tackled long-range projects like Westport plan, as well as the recently completed Joint Land Use Study with Camp Rilea. An inventory of buildable lands has been made available on the internet to positive response from builders.

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