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Central Oregon thinks regionally to attract large lot industrial employers [Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR)]
[August 23, 2011]

Central Oregon thinks regionally to attract large lot industrial employers [Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR)]

(Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) By bringing a data center to Prineville, Facebook hasn't just helped the city; it's been a boon to almost all of Central Oregon.

And therein lies the problem, officials in Cook, Jefferson and Deschutes counties say.

Facebook is the only one of its kind in the area and county officials say it's time the large-lot industrial employer had company. Toward that goal, Deschutes County officials last week took the first step to implement a region-wide economic opportunities analysis that will help towns and cities in the county justify urban growth boundary expansions or zoning changes for industrial sites of more than 50 acres.

Not everyone is pleased with the plan, however. Local land-use advocates admit industrial companies like Facebook that require large tracts of land do help the area's economy, but they think counties in Central Oregon would be better to focus on creating local jobs by courting businesses that don't require as much land.

For more than a year, the tri-county area has been working with Economic Development for Central Oregon to compile the analysis, which will be entered into each county's comprehensive plan and used to justify land-use decisions. It's a move that was sparked by Facebook's decision to come to the region, said Nick Lelack, Deschutes County's planning director.

"The outcome (of the document) basically states that in the short term, about a five year period, we need six sites with a minimum of 50 acres each that are located within three different jurisdictions in the region," Lelack said. "That way we will have an inventory and variety of suitable lands when a company came looking, and would be able to make a much more compelling pitch." The Deschutes County Planning Commission last week held its first public hearing about adding the analysis results to the comprehensive plan, and will take the issue up again at its next meeting on Aug. 25. Once the analysis results are part of Deschutes County's comprehensive plan, which is expected to be done by the end of this year, Crook and Jefferson counties - and all of the cities within their boundaries - will follow suit.

The Central Oregon wing of the statewide land-use activist group 1000 Friends of Oregon agrees with county officials that economic development and land management are issues that should be dealt with at the regional level. But the organization has concerns about some of the assumptions in the analysis document.

According to Pam Hardy, a Central Oregon advocate with 1000 Friends of Oregon, the document simply states that large-lot industrial businesses are good for the economy, but never provides justification. She points to Facebook as a prime example. The company, Hardy says, used more than 100 acres in Prineville and only created 35 long-term jobs, a figure confirmed by Economic Development for Central Oregon.

"By placing the assumption that large lot employers create a strong and thriving economy in the vision statement, the document tries to avoid the task of making the case that employers that require large lots would actually improve the local economy," Hardy wrote in a letter submitted into the record of the final document. "The document simply assumes that this is true.

"Actually, research shows that the opposite is true. The vast majority of job growth comes from existing small businesses." Lelack says the counties aren't ignoring small local businesses. They're just trying to diversify the types of employers in the region.

"This doesn't replace any other efforts," Lelack said. "It's simply meant as a parallel effort in order to maximize the economic opportunities available." By using a region-wide economic opportunities analysis, Lelack said, local governments will have more authority to make sure land being rezoned or added to the urban growth boundary as large-lot industrial isn't converted to another use, as often happens. Anytime the document is used to justify a land-use decision, there will be a stipulation that the land being considered must keep the large-lot industrial designation for a period of at least 20 years, he said.

Land-use activists aren't convinced those large tracts of land will be enough to attract more companies like Facebook, however. Hardy says most companies like Boeing or Intel that require large tracts of land also usually need to be located near population centers of more than 300,000 people. Other factors they seek out: an interstate highway or seaport in close proximity.

Central Oregon's tri-county area has a population of around 200,000, and while it has several regional airports, it doesn't have access to an interstate or seaport.

Despite concerns about the direction the counties are taking with large-lot industrial land, 1000 Friends of Oregon earlier this year came out in support of the effort to try to plan on a regional level, said Mary Kyle McCurdy, 1000 Friends of Oregon's staff attorney. It's a good example of how regional planning can occur under current state land-use policy.

Lelack says the regional effort can help achieve another goal. Conducting such an encompassing analysis helps out of town employers realize that the area isn't as small and rural as it may seem.

"We want to be more compelling from the 10,000-foot level, and this helps us do that," he said.

(c) 2011 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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