Carol Granger - Connections boost economy

Marcus Larson file photo
News-RegisterOne of the employees at Cascade Steel, which came to McMinnville through the efforts of MIP, 
is Fred Menke, 
who keeps watch on the steel recycling process.
Marcus Larson file photo News-Register
One of the employees at Cascade Steel, which came to McMinnville through the efforts of MIP, is Fred Menke, who keeps watch on the steel recycling process.

These wise words could serve as a banner for sound economic development practices.

In 1969, nine different industrial projects broke ground in the McMinnville Industrial Park. It was not serendipity; it was the result of long, hard work by McMinnville Industrial Promotions (MIP).

Originally formed in 1953 by a group of local McMinnville residents pledging their own money to help attract businesses, MIP’s success was recognized by then-Gov. Tom McCall. The benefits to McMinnville from attracting enterprises such as Cascade Steel and Skyline have been enduring. More than 500 new jobs were added to the local economy.

Through the years, MIP led several successful campaigns as well as a few unsuccessful ones. It takes extraordinary collaboration and care to recruit and foster businesses to our community. True economic development efforts take time, resources and unwavering long-term dedication.

MIP is still a thriving organization with a volunteer board combining more than 150 years of business experience. Its philosophy of “business leaders helping business leaders” continues to be entirely focused on economic development for the city of McMinnville. Board members live and work here, and their actions improve the city’s quality and viability.

In 1999, a citywide survey revealed that McMinnville businesses needed a one-stop center to help answer questions and navigate through business opportunities.

That conclusion resulted in formation of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) task force in 2000. The original volunteers included representatives from the McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce, McMinnville city staff, local businesses and MIP. The task force asked for five-year financial commitments from the city of McMinnville, McMinnville Water & Light, MIP, the chamber and Yamhill County. When adequate local funding was secured, MEDP successfully applied for a Council of Governments grant. After six years of steadfast work, we finally were able to hire a full-time, dedicated staff person, Jody Christensen.

As MEDP has grown over the past seven years, it has streamlined processes and sped access to information and resources for our business community. It keeps abreast of challenges and opportunities through frequent contact with state agencies, local bank officers and other organizations knowledgeable about specific business decisions. Its job includes identifying resources, making connections, finding experts and addressing obstacles.

For example, when Meggitt Polymers & Composites expressed its need for a skilled workforce, MEDP introduced Meggitt staff to the principal of Yamhill-Carlton High School. The school’s welding program became a Meggitt partner. When Solid Form Fabrication needed new equipment, MEDP partner Business Oregon helped them secure a loan.

Businesses using its services include one-person micro-enterprises and companies with more than 400 employees, entrepreneurs with the seed of an idea and established companies looking to expand or change locations. MEDP works closely with and helped more than 75 diverse manufacturers to continue growing and thriving here, including Ruby Cakes gluten-free bakery, Grain Station Brew Works and Northwest UAV propulsion systems. It also has been active in a number of large recruitment projects such as Precision Analytical.

Over the past few years, MEDP has worked to become a relevant organization statewide. Jody Christensen serves as president of the Oregon Economic Development Association, and the partnership is represented on more than 10 boards and organizations. We plan to host a trade show table at the Pacific Northwest Unmanned Systems Symposium in Pendleton this October, and we are discussing sponsorship of the Aviation Cluster Summit this fall at Evergreen. We also are heavily involved in Team Oregon Food Processing recruitment efforts. All these efforts help market McMinnville as a superior place to locate a business.

Of course, McMinnville is part of a bigger community. As a region, we share challenges along with opportunities. These include needs for efficient transportation and a strong workforce as well as prospects for strengthening local supply chains. What is good for McMinnville usually is good for the entire county.

So, in 2010, MEDP staff participated in a countywide task force to research and develop potential options to help lead economic development initiatives, an effort that hadn’t been undertaken in Yamhill County since 1980.

In July 2012, the task force formed the Grow Yamhill County initiative. The Grow workgroup met monthly, donating more than 600 collective hours of time. The result was development of the Yamhill County Strategic Plan.

MEDP facilitated the yearlong project using the management expertise from Project Masters of Salem. The workgroup of more than 65 leaders represented local businesses, organizations, state and regional agencies, city governments, education institutions and workforce enterprises.

All three organizations I have discussed — MIP, MEDP and Grow Yamhill County — started small and built initiatives with careful, strategic thinking. All great efforts need time to get their footing. The slow-and-steady process allows groups to build stronger relationships and therefore have more capacity to do valuable work. Both MIP and MEDP are testaments to this way of thinking, and I am looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for Grow Yamhill County.

As Franklin Roosevelt said, “There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” We are a community that never stands still, and we are stronger for it.

Guest writer Carol Granger, a Linfield College graduate, serves as board member for MIP and MEDP. She and her husband operated a retail sales and service business in downtown McMinnville for 22 years. She advocates for living-wage jobs and promotes business-friendly relationships in the community. In retirement, she enjoys traveling, cooking and time spent with friends and family.

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