The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

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By Michele Smith
The Times 

Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy meeting held in Dayton

Economic indicators shared and priorities defined


January 2, 2020

DAYTON—The Conference Room at Fire District 3 was crowded with community stakeholders for the Port’s annual Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) meeting, which took place on Dec. 18.

The CEDS meetings have been ongoing since the late 1990s and are part of federal Economic Development Administration requirements when receiving planning funds and coordinating as an economic development district, according to the Port’s Executive Director Jennie Dickinson.

“While we do not coordinate formally with a federal economic development district, anymore, we believe it is a very valuable process. It helps set the agenda for our work for the future,” she said.

Over the years, the Port has maintained a list of five-year and ten-year goals on its community priority list.

“It’s kind of like our dream list,” Dickinson said.

Categories on the priorities list are; Education and Training, Infrastructure, Business Development, Tourism, Housing, Community Development, and Planning and Capacity Building. Many of the priorities are ongoing, and some have been completed.

The Port uses data from the community priority list to seek funding, Dickinson said. 

The Port’s Economic Development Coordinator Kathryn Witherington shared some current economic indicators with attendees at the December CEDS meeting.

Here are a few take-aways from her report:

Columbia Pulp has moved into third place, behind PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric, in the Top 25 Tax Payers, with Puget Sound Energy, in fourth place, and they are contributing to lower tax rates in Columbia County.

She said the tax rate went down in spite of added school and hospital bonds.

“You have benefitted because of the value of your property,” Witherington told the attendees.

For instance, in 2003 the tax bill for a $200,000 home was $2,760.00. The tax bill for a home of the same assessed value in 2017, was lower than that, at $2,274.00

In 2019, the total county valuation passed the one billion mark for the first time, Witherington said.

The Columbia County Health System remains the county’s largest employer in 2019, with 27 more employees than in 2018.

Columbia Pulp, LLC, has 102 employees making good family wages.

She said even though PacifiCorp relied on temporary workers for the recent wind turbine repowering project at Marengo, there was a positive trickle-down effect for the local economy.

Witherington said there has been a significant decline in unemployment.

The county unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, in October of this year, is relatively low at 5.1 percent compared to the 15 percent unemployment rate in 1994.

“The labor force is going up,” Witherington said.

The labor force rose to 1,905 in Oct. 2019, which is a 1.04 percent increase from the same time in 2018.

She said the county population is increasing at a steady pace, with the addition of ten people each decade.

She said there are more people moving in, than out, and more people dying than being born. Witherington said the county needs more jobs, and services, to entice people to live and work here.

Special guests Bette Lou Crothers, President of the Dayton Development Task Force and Molly Weatherill-Tate, the new Dayton Chamber Manager, spoke about Task Force projects, and the special events each year in Dayton.

Jake Hollopeter PE, with Anderson Perry & Associates, spoke about the city’s wastewater treatment plant project.

Doug Johnson, Superintendent of the Dayton School District, talked about facilities improvement projects at the schools and funding mechanisms.

Dain Nysoe, Chairman of the city’s new Affordable Housing Commission, spoke about the need for more housing in Dayton and the importance of increasing the tax base.

Vicki Zoller talked about the vision the Friends of the Dayton Community Center has for creating a community center and some funding goals.

Jennie Dickinson talked about business at the Port.

She said there are nine businesses located in the Blue Mountain Station, and 41 vendors selling their products at the Blue Mountain Station Co-op Market.

Additionally, there are 19 businesses located in the Port’s Rock Hill Industrial Park.

All of them have created spin-off business for Dayton’s downtown, she said.

Dickinson also spoke about the Touchet Valley Trail project.

Stakeholders attending the 2016 CEDS meeting overwhelmingly said they wanted a bike trail. It was their number one pick on a list of three priorities.

“Until the elected Port commissioners tell us to stop, Kathryn and I are going to work on the bike trail,” Dickinson said.

She said Anderson Perry & Associates will be given the concept plan that was recently created by the landscape architecture students at WSU, and the professional landscape architects to use as they begin to survey, conduct title searches, and establish boundary identification for the bike trail.

At the end of this year’s CEDS meeting, the stakeholders were asked to vote on their top three priorities.

The top three last year were; Housing, the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and School Facilities Improvements.

This year the top three were; Housing (affordable, assisted living, downtown housing, Pool (community center, sports complex), and School Facilities Improvements.

Having a bike trail remains popular with the stakeholders, and this year it came in at number four.


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