During the recent recession, when we reported on the local economy, news regarding the City of Prineville Railway and Prineville/Crook County Airport didn’t look very good.

However, in the face of a challenging uphill climb, local leaders managed to help the entities turn the financial corner, and both now look poised to continue improving into the future.

The railway fell on hard financial times because of the vanishing local timber industry, and by 2004, the facility was no longer turning a profit and faced an uncertain future.

At the airport, Crook County had taken out a $1.3 million loan to build new hangar infrastructure with the intent of leasing the hangars to repay the loan. At the time, hangar sales had showed promise and the county was trying to take advantage of it.

The recession blew those plans apart as the local economy tanked and hangar sales followed suit. The county was then left with a large debt to overcome -- one that airport revenues could not hope to repay.

In each case, county and city leaders took decisive action that turned the fortunes of each enterprise.

The county borrowed from its road fund to pay off the remaining airport debt and the city and county made the tough decision to discontinue the local railroad commission and hand over operations to the city staff. After making that change, they sought to bring in an airport manager that would not only oversee operations, but increase the presence of the facility to increase its use.

As a result, the airport has enjoyed sooner-than-expected success. The airport turned a fourth-quarter profit this past spring and set a fuel sales record for August. They have recruited a flight school, attracted visitors with two special events, and will complete an ambitious master plan with designs on future growth.

With the railway, the City pursued and was awarded three multi-million-dollar Connect Oregon grants that enabled them to turn the railway into a state-of-the-art transload facility that frequently garners praise from prospective rail customers.

They have since recruited liquid de-icer company EnviroTech and began shipping Les Schwab Tires freight. These additions and others have taken the railway from running 87 total freight cars in 2004 to at least 700 for this year if the current rate of business continues.

In addition, the City is prepared to market the railway nationally, and is seeking a potential lease agreement with another railroad company to help them draw customers from a wider net.

We applaud the City and the County for their hard work and their ability to turn the airport and railway around, particularly in the face of a recession that our region is recovering from more slowly than others.

We hope both facilities keep trending up, and encourage local leaders to continue making sound and innovative decisions to make that happen.

Contract Publishing

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