By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

GROW team wants to keep going

That’s because it didn’t, said Jody Christensen, executive director of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership.

“The plan didn’t cost $107,000,” she said. “That was the price of the entire body of work.”

Last year, the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners allocated $107,000 to MEDP to create what’s become known as GROW Yamhill County. It was responding to concern that video lottery revenue wasn’t truly being spent on economic development, as mandated by the state.

The contract tasked MEDP with six objectives, including creating a website, establishing an ad-hoc workgroup, studying the county’s revolving loan fund and creating criteria to equitably distribute the roughly $250,000 the county receives annually from the state’s video lottery money. 

Christensen said she anticipates presenting the commissioners a final report at the end of June, having completed the terms of the contract. “My hope is that when people look at everything the GROW project has created, they see all of the pieces that came together as a result of the contract,” she said.

In addition, the group is seeking the board’s approval of $55,700 in additional funds to allow it to implement the new plan over the next couple of years. 

“On July 1, we hope it’s still moving forward,” Christensen said. “The group is saying, ‘how do we move this forward? How do we deliver on the goals we’ve outlined?’”

Christensen said the plan itself was just one of the project’s components.

“When you take on a project like this, it’s similar to a startup business,” Christensen said. “On July 1 of last year, it did not exist. We had to build a program and bring people to the table.”

She said the bulk of the project’s expenses went into paying for professional services, including a management team lead by Karen Litvin. She oversaw development of a website, creation of a logo and launch of a social media campaign.

By September, a group of 65 people representing the county’s 10 cities had been assembled and put to work. The county had not commissioned a new economic development plan since 1984, prior to the explosive growth of both the Internet nationally and wine industry locally, so there was plenty of work to do.

“Our plan is outlining a course of action that with minimal investment over the next three years by the county will be operational and 100 percent supported by all the cities in the county, which is built into the plan so that every city has some skin in the game above and beyond what they’ve already given,” Christensen said.

The specific nature of that commitment is what caught the attention of newly elected Commissioner Allen Springer when Christensen presented the plan at last week’s budget meeting.

Springer expressed concern that the project relied too much on the county for funding. He said it should be seeking financial support from multiple sources.

Christensen said that is part of the plan long range, but it takes time. She said she’s hoping the commissioners will continue to fund the project through the early stages, in decreasing amounts, so the organizers can finish what they started and make the effort self-sustaining.

Because the county lacked a set of criteria for funding with video lottery revenue, the group developed one. It then applied that set of criteria in developing pilot projects to propose initially.

The first is from Climax Portable Machining & Welding Systems in Newberg, which proposes to extend its internship program to locations elsewhere in the county. The second is from OnlineNW in McMinnville, which proposes to extend fiber-optic capacity to widen the area’s broadband Internet capability, starting in Carlton.

Christen said both promise a solid return on investment.

The board agreed to allocate $11,400 to Climax. It is awaiting approval from Carlton on the second project.

Though all three commissioners said they appreciate the significant volunteer effort, as well as the collective enthusiasm for the project, it is unclear if they will agree on a commitment to fully fund its future.

“The commissioners have a difficult job ahead of them,” Christensen said. “Their responsibilities are deep and wide. They have so much on their plate, and like every public entity, they have to stretch their dollars further and further.”

But she also added, “I believe they do support this effort and they understand the value of a broad community strategy. This is a critical point in any plan’s implementation.

“What happens next? How do you move from paper to plan to action?”

For more information on GROW Yamhill County visit or call 503-550-8504.

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