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Wasco St., a focal point for port, new businesses

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

April 5, 2006

The Port of Hood River has already sold out space in its Wasco Street Business Park — even though the property cost four times more than the average light industrial lot.

Mike Doke, port marketing director, said about 4.5 acres sold to various interests for $5.50 per square foot. In comparison, the five remaining lots at the John Weber Business Park in Odell recently sold for $1.42 per square foot, the typical asking price.

Doke said the Wasco Street property purchased by the port in 2001 was the last light industrial site within the city’s urban growth boundary. He said the port bought the land to provide leased space for Renaissance Learning, Inc., to expand operations. To keep the company — formerly known as Humanities Software — in town, the port even agreed to erect a building on one acre of its new holdings.

Doke said deals are now being finalized on two other Wasco lots with high-tech firms. The final site has been sold to Columbia Area Transit for a transportation base.

“We really thought it would take 10 years to fill this park. This is a major example of the need for industrial land in Hood River,” he said.

The port wants to stem the exodus of companies from Hood River County that are seeking “shovel ready” room to grow. In late 2005, Homeshield, which manufactures door and window parts, moved to The Dalles. The firm, which supplies Cardinal IG in Odell, needed larger quarters to ramp up its production lines.

Doke said seven other employers have left the county during the last several years to pursue affordable properties that would add elbow room. He is currently seated on the county’s Industrial Lands Committee that is working to overcome the ongoing challenge.

“We have a lot of companies in Hood River that are doing very well and we need to keep them here,” said Doke.

The committee is comprised of city, county and port officials, along with several citizens. According to Bill Fashing, the county’s economic development coordinator, only 1.43 acres of the 912 acres of industrial land within the county do not have some type of development constraint. For example, Fashing said the 27 acres at the waterfront are subject to political controversy, creating a risk to any business that might want to settle there. And parcels in outlying areas of the county lack the necessary access to sewer and water services.

Fashing believes the county needs at least two 50-acre industrial parcels that are outfitted with all the necessary amenities to meet its long-term economic development needs.

By late fall, the Industrial Lands Committee is expected to have ideas on the table about how to address the issue. Meanwhile, Doke said the port will soon focus its energies on creating a master plan for development at the waterfront.

A market research study of businesses within the region will precede that work to provide the port with more information about land-use needs.

Also in the works for the port is gaining Federal Aviation Administration approval for construction of a new 20,000 square foot building at the airport. That space will be used to keep another local firm in the area, said Doke.

He is hopeful that negotiations will succeed to lease the 36,000 feet of the former Homeshield building to a single tenant from the Gorge. Doke said three other area companies also expressed interest in setting up shop in that space. He said the port would like to help them find more room as well.

The agency plans to scout around for other industrial sites that can be purchased and developed to bring more family-wage jobs into Hood River County.

“True economic development is 80 percent business retention. So, no one really gets ahead if we work to attract new companies but lose those that we already have,” said Doke.

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