Local Opportunities, Local Strengths
Economic Development Alliance of Lincoln County, OR
The Economic Development Alliance of Lincoln County (EDALC) is a non-profit, public-private partnership in Newport, Oregon that is dedicated to diversifying the economy of the central Oregon coast and facilitating the creation of quality local jobs. The EDALC provides its services free of charge, acting as a one-stop-shop for businesses seeking to set up in the county. Business in Focus spoke at length with Carolyn Bauman, EDALC’s executive director, to discuss the group’s origins, initiatives, and the county’s future areas of growth.
The Economic Development Alliance of Lincoln County was founded in 1994 by Edwin Parker, a visionary in the telecommunications field. The organization began as a group of like-minded people and has always included representatives from county government as well as members of local industry. The group formed a non-profit organization for economic development, and one of the founding goals was to work toward expanding broadband telecommunications capacity in the area. In the nineties, this was a truly innovative strategy as few areas had such an emphasis on this new technology.
Parker could see that broadband and fiber optics was the future and superior connectivity would be a selling point for a community looking to attract business development and people to the area. The alliance quickly expanded past this original purpose to become a group that supported general economic development and diversity in Oregon coast industries. Currently, it is still expanding its focus to include development associated with maritime-related industries.
“We’ve gone from [a focus on] purely tourism and retirement, fishing and logging – we are doing all of those things still, but we are expanding into all the maritime-related jobs like boatbuilding and supporting the fishing vessels with all of the products and services they need. Maintaining a fishing fleet and using marine science is another maritime sector that we can serve,” notes Bauman.
The expanded focus on maritime-related services and jobs extends to education. Oregon State University (OSU) decided in August 2016 to locate its cutting-edge Marine Studies Initiative (MSI) building on the campus of the Hatfield Marine Science Centre, in Newport, Oregon. The building will be of technologically-advanced construction built to sustain a 9.0 earthquake and associated tsunami. The MSI itself is meant to represent a new model for marine studies, with a focus on addressing emerging issues and challenges facing Oregon and the globe, from climate change to dwindling fish stocks. It is an interdisciplinary effort that will involve each of Oregon State’s twelve colleges, the university’s graduate school, the Hatfield Marine Science Center, the university’s Marine Experiment Station and Seafood Lab.
The $50M research and teaching facility to be built on the Newport campus will act as a bridge for the education and research facilities located on the OSU main campus in Corvallis. By 2025, the MSI will have five hundred students-in-residence throughout the year at the Newport location. Building on the OSU’s nationally ranked programs, world-leading research and premier facilities, the MSI will pioneer a new research and teaching model to help sustain healthy oceans and ensure wellness, environmental health and economic prosperity for future generations.
“What [OSU is] doing is expanding from about two hundred students to about five hundred. It will include students [who range from] the first year of college to post-doctoral graduates,” observes Bauman.
The benefits of hosting such an institution are clear from both an educational and cultural perspective, but there are also advantages that such an institution provides to the community as a whole. For example, research dollars will end up being spent in the area on housing, food, and entertainment.
“When you’re actively doing grant-funded research for the United States government, that’s a regular job, and you’re paid well, and you do your work right in Newport. And these grants from the National Science Foundation are in the millions. It brings a lot to the county,” says Bauman.
“Part of our strategy with marine science [focuses on] ocean observing. They collect data about the ocean for research and scientific purposes. We’ve become a real centre for that kind of activity.”
Additionally, EDALC believes that one of the main differentiators for Lincoln County is its deep water harbor facilities and the money these facilities bring to the area from visiting fishing vessels and the associated businesses.
“Having [a deep water harbor] is a tremendous economic asset. It enables fishing boats to come in and out, and they travel all over the Pacific Ocean – to Alaska, to California – so we’re a host to fishing vessels that are multimillion dollar businesses that are floating in the dock. They use our port. Many fish in Alaska but prefer to live here.”
The alliance offers a variety of other services, including help with locating appropriate commercial or industrial sites and providing information and referrals related to utilities, business permits, rental property rates, and employee training programs.
The EDALC is organized as a 501(c) 6 under the Internal Revenue Code – a not-for-profit business league devoted to improving business conditions. Bauman believes this structure provides the alliance with many advantages that are then passed on to the community.
“We’re not charitable, however, we’re eligible for any type of government grant. We do apply for them and receive them. There are a lot of advantages: our board of directors has [representatives from] the public sector, the private sector, and academics. And we represent all of our industries on our board of directors. So it’s very, very collaborative. I think it’s a great model. If we were a department of the county, we might just have public money, and we might not have as much buy-in as when you have members that invest in your organization.”
Rather than courting big companies, Bauman notes that Lincoln County is focused on attracting small business owners. “The people that we are going to attract are small business people, who love it here because of the quality of life, the beauty, the ocean. We attract them when they visit as a tourist, and then they decide to move here. Oregon is gaining something like one hundred people a day because it is such a high-quality place. So a lot of those people are talented and are going to start a business.”
Bauman said that the current and inter-related economic development initiatives that EDALC is pursuing are designed to support small businesses and create a vibrant and economically flourishing community. “We are focusing on two aspects of investing in people: entrepreneurship support and a buy local campaign. We’re trying to raise the ability of entrepreneurs to get their business up and running by providing a lot of help to them, whatever programs fit their business, and then the buy local [initiative] is to keep the money circulating in the county.”
The buy local campaign is being administered by another non-profit organization created by the alliance and has its own distinct website (buylocallincolncounty.org). Formed in early 2009, the Buy Local Lincoln County Association was created to spread the message of why buying locally is so important. The buy local initiative encourages individuals to sign up to learn about the benefits of buying local, as well as to qualify to receive incentives from member businesses. Membership for individuals is free.
Businesses are encouraged to offer an incentive such as a draw, free sample, price-matching, bonus gift, special hour sales, two-for-one, or special discounts to members. When members show their card or pin, they automatically qualify for these special incentive offers. Businesses pay $25 to join but are also featured on the website and gain free advertising through the incentive offers that are publicized. The initiative’s website observes that if every household in the county were to shift just ten percent of their discretionary spending to local businesses, this money would equate to an additional $10 million of additional income that would stay within the county.
One of the areas where the county is seeing increasing growth is in the development of innovative seafood processing facilities. “They used to put [fish] in cans, and there were canneries – that was the old way – but now, we have people processing fish with very sophisticated equipment, using lasers, using water, very green technology, and they are putting fish in pouches, and you can open that pouch, and the seafood is already in a sauce. It’s basically ready to eat. So we are seeing innovations in seafood processing, and the county is going to see more of this in the future.”
Wood products and processing is also an evolving area of growth in Lincoln County. “There are specialty wood markets where there are small sawmills feeding a particular demand. Making panels for the trim on your home or for art, for musical instruments. We are such a wood producing area, that we might have some opportunities in these [niche] areas.”
Food and beverage manufacturing is another area of growing importance in the county. As the movement toward artisanal food and craft brewing grows in support and popularity, Lincoln County is beginning to see its own growth in these areas: “We’ve got one brewery that is quite large – Rogue Ales. They sell all over the world, but they are headquartered here. We have a lot of smaller craft breweries also. It’s a trend in Oregon, and it’s also affecting our area.”
Bauman notes that tourism is also a great driver toward increasing the county’s demand for high quality, artisanal food and restaurants. “We’re going to have better chefs, better menus, because that’s what the customer wants.”
What’s next for Lincoln County? Bauman suggests that the area is going through a building boom. And though the area is relatively small, with approximately 46,000 people, the community is supporting at least $280 million in capital investment. This investment is directed toward port facilities, health care facilities, and additions to the university campus. All of these are features that will simply serve to make Lincoln County ever more attractive, both to tourists and those businesses that seek to locate there.