Hub Cities

Cities of Albany and Millersburg

Many perished along the way, leaving a scattering of unmarked graves alongside the wagon ruts. But, the reward was considered worth the risk. Any white male citizen over the age of 18 who survived the journey was welcomed with free acreage; 320 acres if he were single and 640 acres if he were married.

Brothers Walter and Thomas Monteith were among the newcomers to the Willamette Valley during this time period. Like many Oregon settlers, they went south temporarily to take advantage of the California gold rush, then returned to Oregon’s lush, green wilderness. The brothers found an ideal location on the east bank of the Willamette River, just below the mouth of the Calapooia River, and established a new town. They named the small settlement Albany, after their home in New York State. Businessmen rather than farmers, the Monteiths chose the new site carefully, with trade and future prosperity in mind.

The centrally located community quickly grew into the manufacturing and transportation hub of the Willamette Valley. Stagecoaches and steamboats brought an increasing number of people and goods to the town. When the railroad came to the area, Albany’s businessmen raised $50,000 dollars to ensure that the rails would cut through their town, rather than being laid a few miles to the east. “We have always been a crossroad,” observes AMEDC President John Pascone.

Today, the cities lies directly on Interstate 5, at the confluence of several state highways and a series of railroads, making it a transportation hub to this day. “We are close to California, we are close to Seattle and other northwest cities,” Mr. Pascone points out. “Our location bodes well for companies that want to do business on the west coast.”

For instance, Target and Lowes have chosen Albany and the neighboring community of Lebanon for their regional distribution centers; Hobby Lobby has also just chosen Albany as the site of its first Oregon store. “With our location, we have always been a regional shopping center,” Mr. Pascone says. The 60,000 square foot store is clear evidence that Albany still packs a punch as a regional hub. “It says something that this company would choose Albany for its first Oregon location, when there are larger cities [such as] Portland, Salem, and Eugene.”

The cities’ location has helped them to develop a diverse economy with a variety of industries. “The diversified economy is important,” Mr. Pascone shares. “We’ve had a paper mill close and, because it’s not a one industry town, we are surviving very well.” Significant employers include Oregon Freeze Dry, National Frozen Foods, W.R. Grace Pharmaceuticals, and a number of government and healthcare organizations. Many area residents work at Oregon State University or Hewlett Packard in Corvallis. There are also craft brewers, vintners and a distillery providing employment in Albany.

Most importantly, Albany is a major metals manufacturing and processing center. In fact, the city is known as the “rare metals capital of the world.” The industry’s roots can be traced back to 1942, when the U.S. Bureau of Mines established a research center on the former Albany College campus to focus on the development of new metallurgical processes; in Millersburg, the Wah Chang Corporation started as a spinoff of the Bureau of Mines research. One of the facility’s goals was to develop a safe process for refining titanium. “Titanium metal is a reactive metal; you can’t work on it in air because it will catch fire,” Mr. Pascone explains. “The method for refining titanium was invented in Albany and refined in Albany.” This led to even more metallurgical work. For example, “the titanium for the first nuclear submarine Nautilus came from Albany because of the process that was developed here,” Mr. Pascone reports. The city continues to be a center for the production of titanium as well as zirconium and hafnium. Currently, Albany’s largest private employer is ATI, a metals manufacturing and processing corporation.

The area is also an international center for seed production. In fact, Linn County, of which Albany is the county seat, has been dubbed the grass seed capital of the world. “We grow grass seed here that goes all over the world,” says Mr. Pascone, and the county also boasts a sizable sugar beet seed industry. “Minnesota grows the sugar beets, but our area grows the seeds that supply those beet growers.” The Oregon climate makes Albany an ideal location for growing a variety of seeds. “We have a lot of rain, and when it doesn’t rain we get sun, so the crops go to seed really fast,” Mr. Pascone explains.

Albany works hard to support its diverse business community. “We have a strong chamber of commerce,” Mr. Pascone points out. “It has been one of the strongest in the state for years and years.” This strong Chamber of Commerce partners with an excellent community college, the city, counties, and the Albany-Millersburg Economic Development Corporation (AMEDC) on economic development programs and projects.

The AMEDC was started during the recession of the late 70s to help businesses get back on track. “Before that the communities weren’t doing economic development,” Mr. Pascone recalls. Now, nearly 40 years later, “we are well entrenched in the community. We work on behalf of business, to help the local businesses grow and prosper, and if we can, to bring in more business from outside.”

Indeed, Albany’s placement as a transportation hub provides residents with a high quality of life as well as business opportunities. The city is a little over an hour’s drive to the Pacific Ocean, Cascade and Coast mountain ranges, ten universities and colleges, and the Portland metropolitan area. There are also a number of lakes and rivers nearby, more than 30 well maintained parks, award winning recreation and community event programs, vineyards, and countless outdoor recreational opportunities. “It is a nice place to live with a lot of recreational opportunities,” Mr. Pascone points out. The city’s location also allows residents to choose what type of living arrangement they prefer. “There is a good variety of homes here. You can live in a downtown historic home or you can drive five or ten minutes and have a place with some acreage for a hobby farm or horses or cattle. In just five or ten minutes, you can be out in a rural area.”

For those seeking a historic home, Albany is the place to be. “We have one of the biggest inventories of historic homes on the west coast,” Mr. Pascone shares. The community has had a long-standing commitment to historic preservation and was even named one of the ten best places in the United States to buy a historic home by This Old House Magazine. These architectural treasures include Albany’s very first frame house, built way back in 1849 by the Monteith brothers. The city is also working to restore a remarkable old carousel. “Albany’s historic carousel project draws visitors from around the world to see an amazing work of art take shape,” says City Manager Wes Hare.

To be sure, Albany’s residents also make the community stand out. “Albany’s best kept secret is the number and nature of community volunteers who make everything from a great civic theater to a public transit system possible,” Mr. Hare insists. And these dedicated residents are ready to welcome more people to Hub City. A new downtown riverside housing development is currently underway and more land is available to anyone who is interested. “We’ve got bare land, we have open sites,” Mr. Pascone reports. “It’s a nice community and it’s been growing. It’s a great place to live and a great place to do business.”

November 18, 2017, 10:39 AM EST