Hood River County and cities unite for job growth

A united effort by officials throughout Hood River County is clearing the way for a window assembly plant to set up shop at the lower Hanel Mill.

On Monday, the County Commission accepted the “generous” offer of Cascade Locks to expand its Enterprise Zone. That move followed approval by the Hood River City Council last week and now allows Cardinal Glass Industries, Inc., to qualify for a three-year break on property taxes — with up to five years under special circumstances.

“This will most likely be the first project to move forward in the expanded zone area,” said Hood River County Economic Development Coordinator Bill Fashing.

The County Planning Commission has also recommended approval of a sewer line expansion to the 10 acres of Odell property that is necessary for Minnesota-based Cardinal to assemble energy efficient windows. The County Commission will hold a public hearing on the Goal 11 exception to annex the property into the Odell Sanitary District at 7 p.m. on April 7 in the second floor conference room of the courthouse.

If the sewer line extension is approved, the county will have fulfilled the two requirements necessary for Cardinal to finalize its deal for the former mill site with the Hanel Development Company. Its plans for the industrial zoned property are to construct a plant of about 100,000 square feet that will employ between 50-75 workers initially — with more hires expected as production increases.

“This is an all-hands approach by numerous local and state agencies to bring Cardinal to Hood River County in an appropriate fashion,” said County Planning Director Mike Benedict, who has already initiated a “virtual” preliminary permit to speed up the review process for final plans.

Under the new intergovernmental agreement, Fashing will serve as “zone manager” during business development. He has been in regular communication with Cardinal and said the company wants to begin construction this summer and have the assembly line up and running by the end of the year.

“They’re hoping to be operational as quickly as possible,” he said.

Last week, the Cascade Locks City Council met Cardinal’s first requirement by expanding the Enterprise Zone map. That move was made after officials agreed that any jobs brought into the county would also benefit the rural community.

“Cascade Locks has made a strong statement in their desire to see regional economic development happen,” said County Commission Chair Rodger Schock prior to taking Monday’s unanimous vote for approval of the expansion.

Since Hood River city and county officials have now agreed to be co-sponsors of the zone, it will include 10 square miles of industrial and commercial lands, including the entire urban area of Cascade Locks and qualifying parcels in Hood River, Odell, Dee and Parkdale. The Oregon Legislature set up 49 special zones to cover a maximum of 12 square miles and help non-urban areas where geography would inhibit economic growth.

Hood River Port Director Dave Harlan recently testified before the House Trade and Economic Development Committee about the local need for family-wage jobs. He said Hood River looked “prosperous” but that appearance was deceiving since it had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and its average wage and salary income was just $21,493 — ranking 35th out of Oregon’s 36 counties.

Harlan, Fashing and Benedict are strongly supportive of legislation that may re-open the upper Hanel Mill and Dee Mill for industrial use. They have endorsed legislation sponsored by Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, that will make it easier for counties to rezone or redevelop abandoned or diminished mill sites. Smith will bring House Bill 2691 to the floor for a full vote this week and expects it to pass without difficulty. At that point, Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, who has co-sponsored the bill, will help move it toward joint passage.

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