Courtesy SEDCOR##A train pulls out of Willamina’s Hampton Lumber, one of the largest employers in the West Valley.
Courtesy SEDCOR##A train pulls out of Willamina’s Hampton Lumber, one of the largest employers in the West Valley.

Frank Sheridan: West Valley business

It is hard to write the beginning of a story until you know the end, and the end of this story is jobs.

The prosperity and well-being of people are dependent upon continued employment, development, growth and expansion of jobs, business, industry and commerce. 

The government does not create jobs in the private sector. However, they can promote job creation. The stakeholders of the West Valley communities have found a way to do this. 

Guest Writer

Frank Sheridan has been city manager of Sheridan for 10 years. After a 22-year career in the U.S. Army, Frank went to graduate school at Portland State University. He held city management jobs in Michigan before moving back to Oregon. He and his wife enjoy the area and spending time with their son and grandchildren.

Job growth can often be more problematic for communities outside major metropolitan areas where geography may act as an economic barrier. These areas need particular attention by government resources to help attract private business investment and provide other assistance to help resident businesses reinvest and grow.

Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, works to create, retain, expand and attract businesses providing sustainable, living-wage jobs throughout Oregon. About 17 programs exist in the state that can assist businesses by exempting or delaying tax payments. Six affect property taxes and 11 involve income taxes. The primary tax abatement program used by municipalities in Oregon is the enterprise zone.

Enterprise zones exempt businesses from local property taxes on new investments for a specific amount of time. At least 42 other states offer enterprise zones. While many variations exist around the country, all involve geographic areas targeted for facilitated business expansion and include some form of financial or regulatory incentives provided by a local government.

In Oregon, real and personal property, owned or leased, and newly placed in service by qualified business firms in an enterprise zone are exempt from property taxes for three years. The exemption may be extended to five years under certain circumstances.

Yamhill County commissioners recognized how an enterprise zone could benefit the West Valley communities. Commissioner Allen Springer encouraged elected officials from both Willamina and Sheridan to consider the program. Wanting to invest in jobs, both cities agreed to the partnership and the West Valley Enterprise Zone was created.  

The application process is daunting to small cities, which must empirically prove the economic hardships in their jurisdictions justify the temporary tax exemption. The cities contracted with the Mid-Willamette Council of Governments to prepare the applications. Public hearings were held. Coordination with concurrent taxing districts was necessary since property tax exemption affects more than cities: Polk and Yamhill counties, fire districts, school districts, soil and conservation districts, community college and libraries also exempt the increase in the tax for property newly placed in service in the enterprise zone.

The West Valley zone allows taxes incurred by capital improvements to be waived for a set period of time; based on a ten percent increase in employment and a minimum investment of $50,000 in property improvements or capital equipment purchases. Companies paying wages and benefits exceeding 150 percent of the county’s average median wage can extend their tax abatement period from three to five years.

Administering this program can be time consuming. Many municipalities use a local development corporation to drive their economic development goals. Yamhill County recently contracted with the Strategic Economic Development Corporation (SEDCOR), a nonprofit membership organization that partners with over 400 business and community leaders. SEDCOR’s mission is to enhance and diversify the Mid-Willamette Valley economy by retaining and attracting high value jobs and capital investment, while supporting the performance of existing businesses. Willamina and Sheridan have joined SEDCOR, which is now our contractor to administer the program.

Mayors Ila Skyberg of Willamina and Harry Cooley of Sheridan have urged their respective councils and staffs to work together on this project. As noted by SEDCOR President Chad Freeman, “The collaboration between these two cities illustrates that communities are interested in helping businesses expand and locate in the region.” The councils understand the need to help local businesses expand to ensure their continued operation in the region.

Not all businesses are eligible for tax abatements. The target businesses are firms in traded sector industries. These are industries in which member firms sell their goods or services into markets for which national or international competition exists. Most commonly, the tradable sector consists primarily of the manufacturing industry. In the West Valley zone, hotels and resorts also can compete for tax abatements.

The decline of the lumber industry weakened the economy of the West Valley. Employment never fully recovered and the Great Recession deepened the employment concerns. Both small cities have land and buildings available for use by the traded sector. While we plan for industrial expansion, we know that maintaining our current businesses are key to our success.

Both communities place a high importance on the quality of life. While we wish to increase jobs and the tax base, both communities believe that the main goal of economic development is to improve the communities’ economic and social well-being. This is achieved through active job creation and retention.

Managing better living standards for residents is important to both cities. We have a friendly competition between the cities: the high school football teams, the volleyball teams, the wrestling teams or which city has the most American flag emblems on their Main Street.

Both cities value the Enterprise Zone as another approach to increase jobs that will positively impact the quality of life.


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