COMMENTARY: Malheur County economic development efforts fruitful

Local onion producers hope a new rail reload center near Nyssa will mean higher profits. (The Enterprise)

One could argue that economic development is as much an art as it is a science. Additionally, success and value are in the eye of the beholder and may be measured differently by equally intelligent individuals.

In our opinion, we believe economic development in Malheur County is being successfully addressed, demonstrating value to the county on a daily basis. Evidence of this is clear, as summarized hereafter.

While providing business advising and helping secure financing for new and established businesses, Malheur County committed itself to establishing a reload center. Initial conversations about creating a more expedient and cost-effective means for transporting agricultural commodities began in 2017 and during that year’s full legislative session, Connect Oregon was given authority to provide sizable grants to rural transportation projects. This is a highly competitive and arduous process and, following many months of hard work and research, the Treasure Valley Reload Center was ultimately awarded $26 million. To make this achievement very clear, that is $26 million in GRANT funds for Malheur County.

Projects of this magnitude do not happen overnight yet within a relatively short amount of time much has been accomplished. First, bare agricultural land was purchased, and zoning changed to industrial. This in and of itself is quite a process. Addressing civil engineering concerns, water and wastewater availability and usage, access roads, wetland delineation, etc., are necessary and time intensive– negotiating with Union Pacific was no small undertaking, either.

Most recently, a managerial team has been secured which will not only address moving commodities from truck to rail but will assure shippers end points in Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania and span the southern United States from Texas to Florida. In short, not only does this project benefit agricultural growers and shippers but will result in significant job creation and retention for the people of Malheur County. Furthermore, the project has already attracted additional businesses to the industrial property. It is important to note that work is being addressed to site another shipping company on the industrial property.

This has all been accomplished by a small group of professionals and the seven-member board. Some have argued that the money being paid by the County toward this department is extreme. However, one must understand that those dollars address not only the funding for the director, but also two full-time employees, taxes, insurance, office rental, office equipment and supplies, telephone and utilities, travel and all the other “incidentals” encountered by one who operates a business.

While the Treasure Valley Reload Center has received much publicity, the project is centered on extending services to entrepreneurs and business owners throughout Malheur County. Because of the confidential nature of the work, much goes on behind the scenes. Let us be more succinct, business owners demand confidentiality and we have a fiduciary responsibility to adhere.

The successes to date are clear. Malheur County is getting what it pays for, and more.

Grant Kitamura is the chair of the Malheur County Development Corp. board of directors, which also includes: Kay Riley, vice chair; Randi Svaty, Jason Pearson, Corey Maag, Lynn Findley, and Greg Smith.