Instead of heading into the manufacturing plants, this year's EDCO Made in Jefferson County Tour headed outside — more specifically, into the county's ag lands.
Economic Development for Central Oregon has annually hosted a tour to promote business in the county since 2013. This year, local EDCO Director Janet Brown wanted to showcase the importance of agriculture in the county.
The tour included a stop at Symons Beef Co. on Northeast Dogwood Lane, and Poland Dairy on Northwest Elm Lane. The tour entailed four buses, and groups switched between the locations. After the morning tours, the group gathered for lunch at Symons Beef Co., a lunch including beef ribs from their operation and dessert featuring Poland Dairy organic milk.
During lunch, Jefferson County EDCO Board President and Madras Sanitary owner Melanie Widmer spoke, providing information about EDCO. Formed in 1981, the organization promotes traded-sector business growth in Central Oregon. Regional chambers and municipal governments work with and through EDCO.
EDCO has directors for six different communities in the region, all specific communities, except for Brown, who represents and works for the entire county.
Brown also gave an address during lunch, outlining the difference between Jefferson County and rest of Central Oregon. She noted that there are 2,300 properties in Central Oregon that claim to be farms or small farms. Of those, only 715 claimed incomes from operations.
"The overwhelming majority of farms with income are in Jefferson County," noted Brown.
While small hobby farms are common in Deschutes and, to a lesser extent, Crook, farming in Jefferson County takes more of an industrial purpose. Instead of existing to have a few llamas or horses, Jefferson County ag lands produce food, particularly seed to produce food, for the nation and to export overseas.
A primary focus of Brown's decision to showcase Jefferson County agriculture in the tour was to champion the importance of irrigation to the community. Mike Britton, executive director of the North Unit Irrigation District, was a keynote speaker during the lunch. Britton has been a leader of Central Oregon irrigation interests in the battle to maintain irrigation levels in the face of challenges from environmental protection (spotted frog habitat) and river-health efforts (maintaining downstream water levels).
"You saw today today that Symons cannot produce beef without irrigation for the feed for the cattle," Brown noted during the lunch. "You saw today that Polands cannot produce milk without irrigation for the feed for the cows."
Brown talked about companies that she and EDCO have been working with recently, including two big success stories for the county this year in GCL, the solar farms company, and Sierra Case Parts, which has opened in the Madras Industrial Park. The solar farms are located on North Adams Drive and Belmont Lane outside of Madras, and Sierra Case Parts is located off Cherry Lane. They produce metal parts to refurbish large refrigeration and freezer units, primarily for largescale retailers.
The tour is part of a membership drive for the county EDCO organization. EDCO works to create new primary jobs and capital investment through marketing and business recruitment. All revenues raised in Jefferson County go toward funding in-county EDCO efforts and staffing.
Some of the higher profile businesses Brown and EDCO have been involved with and/or helped lure to the Madras area include the Erickson Aircraft Collection and Daimler Trucks North America. Brown said she has also worked closely with KEITH Manufacturing in local expansion and product projects.
To learn more about EDCO, contact Brown at 541-390-6275.
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