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Agriculture, metals, technology, energy are key sectors

Todd Chase of SCS Group, one of the consultants involved in the strategic planning effort at the Port of The Dalles, brought the super-regional and global discussion of analyst Michael Gallis (see front page) down to the local level March 14 with a discussion of local areas of economic opportunity.

“The economy tends to channel into certain areas of focus,” Chase said. “Maybe [economic growth] is a matter of marketing position — strategically combining with what’s here and building on it.”

The Oregon economy is now experiencing a moderate economic expansion, he said, projecting growth would increase by 2017, with most job additions in the service industry.

Agriculture is the biggest bright spot of Oregon’s rural areas, he said. Agricultural revenues are up 80 percent in the region over the past five years.

Value-added agriculture is one of the niche markets Chase sees in the local future, along with food processing, clean technology, energy, research and development, and machine manufacturing.

Tourism is also seeing some upturn, he said, although “it hasn’t got back to where it was before the recession occurred.”

Wasco County, as a whole, is also down economically from its pre-recession peak, Chase said. But that’s not the whole story.

“Wasco County is one of the few growing rural counties in the state,” he said. “It gained 1,500 jobs over the past 10 years.” That growth is in professional retainers, personal services and health care.

Chase also expects to see some of Portland’s recovery spill over into Wasco County.

While agriculture is the biggest producer in the county, machine manufacturing is five times higher than in some other rural areas, Chase said. Metal work is another strong sector, and barge access could make the area a likely candidate for work on ships that are switching from petroleum to more economical liquid natural gas.

“Those tanks need to be created, whether it’s here or somewhere else on the river,” Chase said.

At present, port industrial lands support 670 direct industry jobs and more indirect jobs – those created by the increased demands from more workers, or to supply those industries.

Chase talked about available local assets and challenges, telling the port the they need to think about the North Chenoweth business park and beyond to the next industrial area.

“There’s really nothing in the region,” he said, and looking at the state forecast for the Mid-Columbia region, he said the area doesn’t have the industrial base to meet the growing need. “You need two, maybe three industrial parks to handle that kind of growth.”

And additional 100 to 200 acres or land and flex or incubator buildings could house an additional 3,000 jobs if they were available, he said.

“All this requires partnerships,” he said. “The port can’t afford to build everything.” Asked about the former Northwest Aluminum site, which includes about 200 acres, Chase noted that some portions of the site face environmental clean-up and Superfund site issues that increase their development costs, while others have the potential to be developed at a much lower cost.

“They could be the focus of the port once North Chenoweth is under way,” he said.

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