Manufacturing has remained strong during the past year
On the front lines of economic development, Prineville/Crook County Economic Development of Central Oregon Director Kelsey Lucas recently gave a recap on the manufacturing industry in Crook County.
Despite the pandemic, Lucas reported that this business sector has done well and, in the case of some companies, has demonstrated growth.
"There has been a lot of manufacturing activity, and people moving from larger cities and just around the region looking for more affordable space. With the housing market blowing up, it seems like a lot of people are moving to Prineville specifically," said Lucas.
She added that the manufacturing industry has been relatively unimpacted. Surprisingly, employers are having trouble finding employees to fill positions. Multiple manufacturing companies have actually added employees.
"Overall, most of our companies are doing quite well unless they are related to the tourism or hospitality sectors," she stated.
Lucas said that many of the commercial and retail industries have certainly struggled, but EDCO mainly works with traded-sector companies, including manufacturing, renewable energy and technology. She attributes the smaller companies being especially resilient due to the amount of space they have, and the ability to have their employees distance themselves without a shift in operations, while providing them with safety protocols like filtration systems.
The pandemic has affected the ability of EDCO staff to travel for trade shows and industry conferences, but she reported that it has not had a tremendous impact due to the shift to virtual options. It also impacts prospect companies looking to travel to U.S. sites for their own site selection due diligence--especially international companies
"I think things are still working out, they just look different," she went on to say. "The lack of travel has been different, but we have pretty good luck just because people want to move to Central Oregon in general, so people are still coming here."
Lucas also commented that one other challenge has been the inability to go on site and meet with local companies.
"It's hard for us to go meet face to face with these companies, so we have shifted our approach to that, too, with more over the phone and virtual. Occasionally, we will be able to go into businesses who are comfortable with us wearing masks and keeping our distance."
She added that the vaccinations and the lower risk designation by OHA has eased anxiety for some businesses to have people outside their workforce on their job site. Lucas also commented that she has been impressed with how local companies have demonstrated resilience during the pandemic and the challenges they face.
"It's really amazing with the businesses, just how many people have switched their markets. If they are not having good luck with their typical customer pool, they transition to something different. It seems like people are staying afloat and just getting really creative. That has been awesome for me to see."
Lucas noted that there is a lot of interest in spec industrial space in Crook County, as much of the remaining large industrial space in the Central Oregon region is at capacity.
"Most of the center of the region is tapped out on industrial space, depending on what people are looking for. We have a lot of people looking in Crook County with the Woodgrain redevelopment and Baldwin Industrial."
She added that Tom McCall Industrial Park will soon have more than 20,000 square feet coming online.
Crook County also has the two new Invenergy solar projects (Prineville and Millican) that finished construction in late 2020 and early 2021. The Prineville project will provide approximately 40 MW of renewable power and the Millican project about 60 MW.
Lucas is excited that EDCO's Regional Office will have one of their large annual gatherings in limited numbers in May.
"EDCO will be having our large annual luncheon in person at the Riverhouse on Thursday, May 6, and they are allowing 300-plus people to attend in-person in various rooms throughout the venue, which is big since we haven't been able to gather in volumes and EDCO typically has 50-plus events around the region annually," she concluded.
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