By all accounts, it has been a difficult year for the Douglas County Industrial Development Board.
The board dates back to 1978 when, according to state archives, Douglas County became the first county in Oregon to create its own economic development board.
As its name suggests, the board is tasked with bringing industry — and more importantly good-paying jobs — to the county. By that yardstick, the board mostly fell flat in 2019. It was scheduled to meet every month, but half of those meetings were canceled because there was nothing to discuss.
The board’s biggest project was a 126-acre theme park planned for county-owned land in Sutherlin. However, those plans disintegrated earlier this month when the developer failed to meet a deadline to close on the property. The board has two other projects in the Tri City area involving longstanding businesses — a tire store and a hardware/lumber store — that are moving from nearby locations.
However, all hope is not lost, judging by the board meeting held this week. Representatives from two economic development organizations that partner with the board were on hand to discuss their recent work and projects they have in the pipeline.
First up was Shaun Gibbs, interim executive director of the South Coast Development Council, Inc. The SCDC is based in Coos Bay and does some work promoting economic development in western Douglas County. Gibbs submitted a two-page letter to the board in which he outlined some of that work. His letter said, in part:
“Over the last 12 months, SCDC has been working with our partners at the City of Reedsport, Port of Umpqua, CCD Business Development, and Business Oregon to sustain the economic vitality of western Douglas County. SCDC has supported direct investments in the community of approximately $3.5 million to $4 million and the creation of approximately 25-30 living wage jobs, from these entities (a CBD operation; ceramics shop, gun store and an investment company).
“Additionally, SCDC is the direct point of contact for Business Oregon activities which included responding to Request For Information (RFI) from State Recruiters and private site selectors for the following projects: Project North Sea, Project NDT, Project Outfield, Project Brave, Project BP, Project Grand Prix, Project Clover, Project Built, Project Muir, Project Terra, Project Chill.”
The letter went on to say SCDC is working on several more private projects in western Douglas County. Like the projects mentioned above, each of these has a code name:
- Project Brand (recycling manufacturer with a projected $10 million to $15 million capital expenditure and projected 200+ job creation).
Project Right (advanced energy project with a projected capital expenditure of $80 million to $100 million and expected job creation in the 50-75 employee range).
Project Tombs (aquaculture project with a project capital expenditure of $10 million to $25 million and job creation in the 10-25 employee range).
The board has given SCDC $2,500 for each of the last two years. At this week’s meeting, Gibbs asked the board to increase that amount to $10,000. The board rejected that request but did increase its contribution to $5,000.
The Umpqua Economic Development Partnership also works with the board. Partnership Executive Director Wayne Patterson outlined several projects his agency is working on. Those projects include:
- Private project: Looking for a site to construct a 1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility. Several sites are being considered at this time.
- Project NDT: Business Oregon is working with a company looking to locate a new technology data center. The sites submitted were the Reedsport Commerce and Technology Campus, 620 Stearns Lane in Sutherlin, and 2320 Buckhorn Road in Roseburg.
- Project Brave: A European client looking for an industrial site to locate a pulp and paper mill. Its source material will come from recycled paper. The Reedsport Commerce and Technology Campus was submitted.
- Project Clark: Searching for a potential food manufacturing site available for sale or lease. The minimum size needed is 50,000 square feet with a cap of 300,000 square feet. Access to highways, power, water, and sewer are all critical. The sites submitted were 620 SW Stearns Lane and 210 Crestview Street, both in Sutherlin.
Obviously, not all of these proposed projects are going to blossom into actual developments. Some, truth be told, sound like pipe dreams. A 1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Douglas County — the equivalent of about 20 football fields — is hard to fathom. And let’s just say that if the SCDC does land a $100 million “advanced energy project,” then the $5,000 Douglas County is giving them would represent one of the greatest public investments ever.
Having said that, hope springs eternal and Douglas County is in dire need of an economic boost. If even a couple of those secret “projects” listed above become a reality, then the board will have turned its fortunes around in a big way.