Local board hands out nearly $300,000 to boost Malheur County economy

Small businesses and groups are getting a boost to improve the local economy through new jobs and services thanks to two grants awarded this spring.

The Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board awarded nearly $300,000 in its first-ever grant cycle. The board was created in the 2017 legislative session to encourage economic development along a 20-mile stretch of Oregon’s border with Idaho.

This grant cycle garnered 26 applications for two grant programs.

Four applicants received up to $25,000 from the Scott Fairley Memorial Edge Grant geared toward projects that find creative solutions to revitalize the local economy.

Red Rock Ag Products LLC, a Vale-based company, received $25,000 for a project to recycle drip tape in mass quantities. The company intends to establish and operate a recycling plant in the Treasure Valley; an initial location was scouted at an empty warehouse in southwest Ontario.

The warehouse will employ up to 12 people. Red Rock estimates the project will cost $705,900.

Farmers use drip tape to help water crops from below, but the material is only usable for one season.

“There is no current mechanism for either recycling or reusing the tape, leading to over 16 million pounds of accumulated used tape, with a further five million pounds forecast in each subsequent year,” according to the grant application.

The plant will have the capacity to process the used drip tape using water and friction scrubbing to clean the material and prepare it for pelletizing. 

“The proprietary process and machinery will turn the cleaned tape into pellets. These LLDPE pellets need no further processing, and are available to be re-melted and re-molded into new products,” the application added.

Owners Craig Hiatt and Jerry Kidd were tight-lipped about the business but since 2017 the pair have worked closely with Treasure Valley Community College’s Small Business Development Center to bring the idea to fruition.

“We felt there was a need after we looked around,” Hiatt, from Vale, said in an interview last week.

Hiatt said he expects the project will be operational in the fall.

“Recycling agricultural irrigation waste product into usable future products, cleaning up the environment, freeing up agricultural land for more production, bringing a new manufacturing industry to the area with a readily available supply chain for sales, and creating jobs is what this project is all about,” Andrea Testi, director of the Small Business Development Center, wrote in a letter of support for the project.

Other letters of support came from the City of Ontario, the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce and the Snake River Economic Development Alliance.

Several of the letters noted that the timing for the project is critical. A Canadian company is said to be looking into starting a similar business across the river in Idaho.

“Oregon is the optimal location for this type of business, in the heart of farming country,” Kit Kamo, executive director of the Snake River Economic Development Alliance wrote.

A second $25,000 grant went to the Nyssa Chamber of Commerce to hire a consultant who will visit Nyssa for a week-long on-site professional assessment of the city.

Roger Brooks is credited with helping revitalize the city of Caldwell and assessing 2,000 other towns in the U.S., according to the grant application.

Brooks and his team will offer suggestions for improving Nyssa. Their work will culminate in a public presentation.

The chamber will use $18,000 of the grant funds and pitch in $7,000 to hire Brooks.

The grant application noted Nyssa’s immediate need for a boost.

Building facades are described as run down and the city’s Main Street as “less than desirable.”

“Businesses open and close often within a few months,” the proposal added. The city’s need for an event center for community gatherings as well as better marketing was also discussed.

“We feel this is the catalyst that Nyssa and the Chamber Board needs to kick off our Nyssa Renewal Project,” the project proposal said.

Montessa Young, owner of the coworking space Launch Nyssa, received $22,192 for a career services project to kick start weekly courses focused on technical skills.

Young opened Launch Nyssa at 116 Main Street last summer. The business provides office space for workers who, like Young, work remotely. A curriculum developer for a tech company in San Francisco, Young saw the need locally for short-term courses on technical skills such as computer basics, web development and coding.

“One of the challenges is our education level in Malheur County is low and it can be a struggle to get more technical jobs,” Young said.

The estimated total cost of the project is $46,032, according to the grant application. The grant will allow Young to teach three, hour-long classes per week and offer Launch Nyssa’s shared office setting to 12 people.

The courses and space will be free for Malheur County residents. Young hopes the project will be operational by June.

The grant will help her buy desks and equipment and pay a part-time employee to teach the courses.

“It’s a really new concept for people in rural areas,” Young said of the co-working setting.

She’s currently working on developing the curriculum. Courses will vary in length depending on the topic, she said.

In Adrian, the nonprofit Adrian 2040 received a $3,000 grant to study whether Adrian could establish repacking services for the online behemoth Amazon.

The company’s Fulfilled by Amazon program partners with repacking companies that help third-party sellers ship their goods. Adrian 2040’s project will send a team of four people to Roundup, Montana and Tillamook to do business research.

“If this project finds the real potential for success of such business in the region, Adrian 2040 may continue its efforts by working with identified entrepreneurs and investors to review,” according to the grant application.

The Education and Workforce Training grant awarded varying amounts to six projects that will boost local schools. The grant is open to local education service providers seeking to upgrade programs, equipment or facilities for workforce training.

This year’s recipients included programs Four Rivers Community School’s 4Riv FabLab, Frontier STEM Hub/ Oregon State University Extension, Nyssa High School’s Welding Lab Renovation and Career Readiness project, Treasure Valley Community College and Vale School District’s automotive technology program.


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