In focus: Gresham's industrious development
About four years ago, an ambitious policy decision by Gresham's elected officials sparked an industrial development boom that is still reverberating throughout the city.
In 2014, in an effort to be more appealing for the highly sought-after industrial companies looking to locate operations in Oregon, Gresham made a move to cut its application review process in half. The 66-Day Industrial Land Use Application Review was a hit with companies, and allowed the city to secure important development.
"The critical component was the mayor and City Council taking a big risk," said Shannon Stadey, director of Gresham's Economic Development Services. "It took a lot of navigating by a lot of people to make this work."
The normal application process, as mandated by the state, allows for 120 days. The city not only committed to lowering that timeframe, but also is the only city that has taken the step of codifying the ambitious promise. That means if Gresham fails to meet the 66-day benchmark, it could be sued by the company. So far, that hasn't been a concern.
"This was putting our money where our mouth was," Stadey said. "We believe in our city and staff, and knew we could deliver on this promise while enticing the best traded-sector companies to come to Gresham."
The 66-day process isn't just faster, it's also smoother for the companies. Everything has been streamlined, and often the city comes in much sooner than the high-water mark. The average for the city has been 40 to 45 days.
"Every day we spend reviewing costs them money," Stadey said.
Gresham has about 1.7 million square-feet of new industrial space, with an additional 800,000 slated to be completed or started in 2018. Data collected shows the shift in focus to industrial construction began in 2015, moving away from multi-family buildings. Most of the industrial development in Gresham is speculative, which is built without a tenant secured.
The reason Gresham is gaining speculative properties is because of the vacant industrial land available, and incentives such as the 66-day application. So much development is occurring that in the future the city will have filled all the land slated for that use. Currently there is one parcel of about 20 acres, and three to four others that are all smaller.
"Developers don't construct speculative often, so the market has to be hot," Stadey said. "It feels like if we blink that land will be gone."
Fast, nimble, aggressive
When Stadey first started, there wasn't as much of a focus on supporting the industrial sector beyond the initial phase. The city did a good job enticing the businesses to come to the community, but that is where the process tended to end. Now that has changed.
While there are always bumps and hurdles to navigate, Economic Services Development serves as the go-between for the companies and city, acting on behalf of the businesses, helping them navigate some of the local and statewide processes. That effort makes a difference for Gresham, which is in a regional competition to draw industry. Stadey noted that many of the companies that have come to Gresham were originally in other local cities.
"Some didn't feel love from their previous cities," she said. "They tell us they appreciate the contact and advocacy my team provides. We want to form long-term relationships."
There is risk to the speculative development that has become so prolific in Gresham. The structures could stand empty, with no tenants willing to come. And yet, in Gresham those spaces have been doing well. Before the recession in 2008, the city had about 1 million square-feet of empty speculative industrial space. Just one year later all of that had been filled, despite the poor economic conditions.
"We have a low vacancy rate, the markets are strong," Stadey said. "This is a smart place to do business."
Most of the time Stadey and her team are working with the 115 industrial companies within the city. They will check in with them at least once a year, allowing for an opportunity for questions to be asked and concerns to be raised. According to Stadey, 90 percent of their time is doing retention work.
Gresham's goal has been to maintain current family-wage jobs available, while also bringing more to the community. The industrial companies help support that plan, and allows opportunities for younger community members to work where they grew up. Resources such as Mt. Hood Community College and the Center for Advanced Learning have become key training locations in East Multnomah County, with several companies partnering with them to deliver a pipeline of young employees to their facilities.
"We have had a very strong focus on attracting jobs and economic investment, heavily streamlining our processes to become the fastest, most nimble and most aggressive local government in the region when it comes to attracting traded-sector investments," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis. "Bring your business to Gresham, and the city will be your partner every step of the way."
One place that has become a center for city's industry is the Gresham Vista Business Park, a 221-acre space with many speculative spaces still open to new tenants. The site is between Southeast Stark Street, Northeast 223rd Avenue and Northeast Glisan Street. There are 11 lots spread across the park, with several companies already filling places like Trammell Crow Company and Specht Development.
The construction of the Subaru facility in 2017 was a catalytic moment for the Gresham Vista Business Park. While there was already an important anchor tenant in ON Semiconductor Components Industries, Subaru helped spur further interest in the 300-acre site.
Gresham had been working hard to market the speculative spaces to potential tenants, but the risk of an unknown location makes it difficult to get the ball rolling. Subaru was the first industry to move into the section owned by the Port of Portland. Now more will be coming, including Element Six Technologies.
The company is a leading producer of synthetic diamond products that are used in the production of automotive engines as well as powering high-speed digital telecommunications.
Element Six will move its new facility to Gresham in an effort to extend its production capacity. The facility is in the planning stages, and will be operational in 2020. Gresham was chosen by Element Six after a rigorous process that involved cities across the Pacific Northwest.
"Gresham provided an attractive mix of high-quality power supplies, access to a large talent pool, support from both the city and the (Port of Portland) and excellent regional and international connectivity," said Ellen Zimmer, head of marketing communications for Element Six.
Though she can't elaborate on who else is being lined up because of non-disclosure agreements, Stadey is excited about the other industrial partners that have their eye on Gresham.
"We don't get to talk about what we do very often, but things are looking bright," Stadey said. "We want Gresham to be the number one place for industrial development."
Draw 'em in
Gresham has several tools and incentives to help draw companies into Gresham. They include:
• The Enterprise Zone provides three- to five-year property tax abatement on new investments, in exchange for companies meeting job creation and other business requirements.
• The E-Commerce Zone provides income tax credit for companies engaged in electronic commerce that are also located in an enterprise zone.
• Gresham's New Industries Grant Program encourages new industrial investment and the creation of jobs in the Rockwood-West Gresham Urban Renewal area.