Panel stresses capitalizing on existing assets
Yamhill County’s character and heart are in farming, and it still plays a key role in the local economy, County Economic Development Director Jeff Lorton said Thursday at a McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce forum.
Lorton was participating in a panel discussion on economic development with Jody Christensen of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership and Karen Wilde Goddin of the state Business Development Department.
Not only do many people in the county farm, often in addition to holding down day jobs, Lorton said, but growing up on farms affects their children in profound and beneficial ways.
Many local manufacturers say they were able to hire workers they needed locally, with little additional training thanks to a “mechanically inclined” population. And he said the thanks goes to our farm economy.
“Why are we so good at manufacturing?” he asked. “Because 14-year-olds drive combines, and when they break down, they fix them.”
The county is home to about 2,500 small family farms, Lorton said. But he said the average age of the county’s farmers has risen over the years to 58, and he said, “That’s a problem.”
Keeping farms in independent local and family ownership “is critical to Yamhill County culture,” he said.
For that reason, Lorton said, the county has embraced “precision agriculture,” which combines traditional manual working of the soil with new high-tech methods representating the wave of the future.
He thinks it has the potential to revitalize the industry locally, making it a model for the nation. And the focus on technology appeals to young people, drawing more of them into it, he said.
“Yamhill County would do really well to institute a software/data industry around agriculture,” Lorton said. He said that’s one of the underlying goals of a Precision Farming Expo the county is planning to stage on the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum Campus in April.
The core mission of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership is supporting manufacturing, Christensen said. But she said its doors are open to all types of businesses.
Christensen said one of her goals is to foster the kind of educational and training programs ensuring the availability of skilled workers. To address that, she said, her office is working with local businesses to create a paid internship program.
She said she has been working “behind the scenes” with Evergreen International Aviation, which went out of business at the end of last year..
Christensen said the bankruptcy trustee appointed by the courts has lined up a broker to market Evergreen’s sprawling, mostly vacant campus on the south side of Highway 18, across from the museum. She said the broker figures to market them internationally as well as nationally and regionally, raising the possibility of attracting some valuable new tenants.
She said that’s as much as she can share right now, as she has confidences to keep.