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Chenoweth: Envisioning a place to nurture new ideas

Image: Architect’s rendering##SkySong, an innovation center billing itself as one of the premier economic engines in the Phoenix Metro Area, helped spur local plans.
Image: Architect’s rendering##SkySong, an innovation center billing itself as one of the premier economic engines in the Phoenix Metro Area, helped spur local plans.
##The innovation center site lies in the lightly shaded area in the lower middle on the draft Three Mile Lane site plan pictured.
##The innovation center site lies in the lightly shaded area in the lower middle on the draft Three Mile Lane site plan pictured.

These are exciting times to be a resident of McMinnville.

In 2020, we finally won approval of an expanded Urban Growth Boundary. Earlier this year, the McMinnville Programming Advisory Committee, known as MacPac, delivered its proposal for replacement of the library, community center and aquatic center, and upgrade of the senior center.

Downtown is thriving, to the point it has won several Main Street awards. And the Third Street improvement project, designed to upgrade our historic downtown’s look, function and infrastructure, is moving forward.

But what about the hole left by the 1996 departure of Hewlett-Packard, in terms of higher paying technology jobs? We are now seeing movement there as well, in the form of a tech-oriented innovation center proposed for industrial land along Highway 18, where development has been long stalled.

This gives us a chance to build on our tradition of agricultural and manufacturing industry by developing an incubator facility for entrepreneurial businesses — businesses that will take root and grow here in McMinnville, sharing ideas, technology and resources along the way.

Plans for a major new retail complex, and attendant concerns about the potential for increased traffic congestion, have been dominating discussion as the city works on an updated Three Mile Lane Plan governing development of its Highway 18 corridor. However, the innovation center component could well prove the crown jewel. 

An innovation center is a multi-purpose/multi-use development where collaboration can take place between startups and their industrial and educational partners, serving to nurture new ideas and technologies. And the concept is already proving its worth in other parts of the country.

Innovation centers may include corporate offices, research and development facilities, cooperative high-tech manufacturing facilities and even food and service providers designed to conveniently meet the needs of employees. Imagine, if you will, a modern campus for industry that builds on opportunities of McMinnville’s past, present and future.

Centers can take forms as unique as the communities they inhabit. One example is SkySong, Arizona State University’s Scottsdale innovation center, which is described this way on its website:

“SkySong is a 1.2 million-square-foot mixed-use project featuring Class A commercial office space; retail, restaurant, hotel components; and the exceptional SkySong Apartments. It is home to ASU SkySong, startups, Fortune 500 companies and just about everything in between.”

The sky is truly the limit on what could take place at the innovation center proposed here.

Why McMinnville?

First, we have the right land — a 180-acre parcel already zoned industrial. In fact, it is one of the largest contiguous pieces of flat industrial land in the state.

Its location alongside an expressway, adjacent to an airport and on the edge of a growing, award-winning community makes it almost perfect.

Highway 18 is dually designated as a freight route and an expressway, and that designation will not change as a result of this development.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has a three-stage plan in existence for McMinnville’s Highway 18 corridor to ensure that as traffic increases, its dual designation is protected and maintained. Currently, we are still in stage one.

Second, this community needs economic diversity and high-density concentrations of high-paying jobs.

It is generally acknowledged that economic diversity helps communities weather turbulent times.

But that’s been lacking since HP left our community. Despite the existence of some innovative high-tech companies, our economy is still grounded predominantly in agriculture and tourism.

McMinnville remains well below the state median for household income. That is a natural outgrowth of a community oriented to agriculture, tourism and retirement living.

Third, it fulfills a vision for the future for our community.

This vision began was first laid out about 2.5 years ago by Scott Cooper, then executive director of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership. One element was the airport, which he saw as not meeting its full potential for the city and region.

One of my first roles as a city councilor was to serve on the McMinnville Economic Vitality Leadership Council as city government liaison and vice-chair. Cooper had just been hired away by the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, as business attraction manager, and I attended his last meetings with MEVLC before he headed off to a warmer climate.

In those meetings, he described his vision for economic development at the airport and along Highway 18 adjacent to it. That helped me see clearly what could happen there.

I get passionate when I think about the potential. In fact, I believe Cooper barely scratched the surface of what could ultimately be accomplished for the city, county, state and the industrial sector of our economy through the airport and innovation center.

Regionally, the Strategic Economic Development Corporation, known as SEDCOR, has become an active partner. A year ago, the state began discussing the need for five to six innovation hubs, opening up an opportunity for McMinnville that should no be missed.

To that end, the state has developed a 10-year innovation strategy, designed to take the concept statewide. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see McMinnville get in on the ground floor?

Fourth, this land will develop with or without planning, guidance and management. But we have a window of opportunity to play a meaningful role in shaping it in ways best meeting the city’s needs, both for today and for generations to come.

The tract lies inside city limits, enjoys immediate access to the airport and highway, and already carries the appropriate industrial zoning. It falls predominantly under the ownership of two groups, both of which are supportive of the innovation center concept and the underlying community vision.

The choice confronting us is between sitting back and letting this land be developed piecemeal, without input, or attempt to influence it in a direction accommodating a sustainable, long-term industrial campus.

Yes, a 40-acre portion is being eyed for commercial rather than industrial development.

However, we need that in order to provide services for residents of our growing community and help pay for the infrastructure needed to support the innovation center. Besides, that leaves up to 140 acres still available to seed local industrial development.

Wouldn’t we be better served by a thoughtfully designed innovation center than by random development outside our sphere of influence — 140 acres of industrial land that is proactively master planned to seed and nurture entrepreneurial industrial businesses in McMinnville, thus providing great jobs for our community?

What will McMinnville look like in 40 years? I know it has changed dramatically from the time I arrived 40 years ago, when its population stood at 15,000.

Will McMinnville still be the same vibrant, growing, community in 2062 that it is today?

It’s our charge to lay the groundwork for that vision. It includes future jobs that pay well, so that people can work, live and raise their families all in the same town, just as past generations could.

We have the land. We have the need. We have the vision. We have the planning and foresight.

Let’s work together to help guide economic development here for  our community, our children and our grandchildren.

Guest writer Chris Chenoweth was elected to a four-year term on the McMinnville City Council in 2020. He owns Acupro Oregon, a computer sales and service company. In addition to his council and company interests, he has been active in the McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce and Abundant Life Pentecostal Church. A graduate of McMinnville schools and 35-year McMinnville resident, he is raising a family here with his wife, Kamie. 

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