We need a new vision for industrial land
Every summer, I fall back in love with this place. The sun comes out; the days are long; and people enjoy the quality of life in this region — natural beauty, recreational opportunities, active urban centers, a robust economy, and an independent spirit. It's a cool place to live, and the residents work hard to protect this special place.
Recently, the Westside Economic Alliance's (WEA) Land Use and Housing Committee met to discuss the release of the Discussion Draft of Metro's Urban Growth Report. This is a state-mandated report Metro is required to produce every six years, and it provides a 20-year forecast of housing and employment growth by evaluating the current capacity of the urban growth boundary.
It affects all aspects of the region's future and serves as the basis of whether the urban growth boundary is expanded.
When the Discussion Draft of the Urban Growth Report is published, there is always a robust discussion among key leaders in the region. Many of them challenge the report, protecting what they think is most critical for the continued success of the region. However, the 2018 report is different than reports of the past. This report sets the stage for a new type of discussion regarding land use, and it appears to be a new chapter for our region.
The report begins with four specific requests for modest urban growth boundary expansions from cities in Washington County—Wilsonville, King City, Beaverton, and Hillsboro. Each of these cities prepared a conceptual community plan for their potential expansion areas based on local aspirations and public outreach. Metro will review the proposed concept plans considering a variety of policy goals, along with hard data, to determine the right locations to accommodate growth.
One significant concern the WEA Land Use and Housing Committee raised about the report was its lack of support for more industrial or employment land. Metro's 20-year forecast in the report shows a decrease of 9,000 jobs in the region's industrial sector, which includes manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution. Unfortunately, the region does not have much land available for industrial growth, and at the same time, the report does not support a need for it.
Some find this concerning and out of sync with what Washington County is experiencing, where manufacturing employment continues to set new records, topping 50,000 jobs at more than 825 companies right now. In fact, manufacturing employment in Washington County increased 4.5 percent in the past 12 months — triple the overall employment growth rate for Oregon and the rest of the country. This means manufacturing employment now accounts for one in six jobs currently held in Washington County, and it accounts for one in every four manufacturing jobs held in the state of Oregon.
While cities in the region have been encouraged to develop visionary concept plans to address their housing needs, some wonder about the absence of a vision for employment or industrial land. Since August 2011, most of the industrial sites in the buildable land inventory are off the market. The remaining industrial sites in the region are not ready for development, which dampens economic competitiveness. Significant investments are needed to move these properties to market and the region needs to identify ways to finance these investments.
One desired outcome and characteristic of a successful region was outlined in a Metro advisory group as, "Current and future residents benefit from the region's sustained economic competitiveness and prosperity." This is hard to do if a region does not actively plan for employment land and does not factor in what is happening around the region currently.
WEA is supportive of the steps Metro has been taking to address housing with a more comprehensive and visionary way. Perhaps though, it is time for the Urban Growth Report to include another new chapter by including a regional economic opportunity analysis coordinated with Greater Portland Inc. or Business Oregon. Just like the housing piece, we need multiple viewpoints on this issue. As a region, we need to remember those living here, now and into the future, will need economic opportunities too — and we need to plan with not only the hope for a higher quality of life, but with the vision and the data that will lead the region into a prosperous future.
Mimi Doukas is the chair of the Westside Economic Alliance's Land Use and Housing Committee and serves on the WEA Board of Directors. Learn more about the WEA at: westsidealliance.org