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MEDP Spark - Shedding Light on McMinnville's Economic Landscape

Apr 11, 2016

MEDP Spark, Volume 1, Issue 4 -- April 2016

McMinnville's economy has seen its share of ups and downs over the years: a microcosm of the larger U.S. economic picture. Not long after Kem Carr moved to McMinnville in 2011, he watched a community join together to climb out of the global recession. As the new General Manager of McMinnville Water & Light, he had a front-row seat to steady growth of the city.

"You saw a bright spot at the end of the road," says Carr, made possible by McMinnville's focus on community and business-friendly environment.

What really caught Kem's attention was the superlative utility service and low rates as an undeniable contributing factor to McMinnville's high quality of life. Combine that with the low cost of doing business, and the city has the ingredients that make it the perfect place to thrive. Being close to both Portland and Salem while retaining all the charm of a small town is just the icing on the cake.

The system is simple. McMinnville Water & Light is a singular energy provider in Oregon. Because it is municipality-run, the company is able to focus on serving the city's businesses and residences rather than being profit-centric.

Case in point: When asked how the organization is able to keep its rates the lowest in the state, Kem pulls out chart after chart. He emphatically explains how the city's small, tight, top-of-the-line electrical system ensures incomparable reliability - manufacturing businesses simply don't experience long outages or interruptions like they do in Portland.

"It's a very kind and caring community," says Kem. "You don't get that flavor in bigger urban areas." Despite, or because of, its size, McMinnvilles' been seeing an increase in national attention over the past few years. The community as a whole has rallied around the small downtown shops, beautiful wineries, and culinary delights.

From Kem's front-row seat, the strong sense of community naturally provides for McMinnville's great business environment. When the small coffee shops are thriving, the bigger industrial and manufacturing companies are as well.

The way Kem sees it, having a national spotlight on the town's food and wine industry shows that McMinnville has a lot to offer. "It's unusual that you have that kind of diversity and those kinds of rewards for a town of 33,000," says Kem. This boom, combined with the growing industrial sector, sets McMinnville apart, "It includes the businesses, the crafts, the manufacturing and brings it all together as opposed to just having a resort-type town."

Simply put, McMinnville is where people plant their roots. The public school district is excellent and the local Chemeketa Community College and Linfield College both work with the community for many of their programs. Entrepreneurs looking to open a business can do so with ease, without the same restrictions larger urban areas have to navigate with city governments. Business owners and residents alike enjoy the lowest water rates in the region and electricity rates in the state, while enjoying the highest quality of both as Kem is proud to point out.

His involvement in seeing businesses thrive doesn't stop with first-rate utilities, though. Kem also sits on the board for the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership, or MEDP. The partnership provides resources for business owners of all sizes to continue growing McMinnville's economy. Tirelessly working with and listening to business owner's concerns has led to better programs and solutions.

When owners identified difficulties in hiring and retaining their workforce, for example, MEDP tied it to a large cultural shift. There was a decline in the importance placed on highly skilled labor positions. So, they worked with the area's schools, community college and four-year university to create the McMinnville WORKS Internship Program. It places interns with a wide variety of skills in a number of industries to get real-world experience and helps develop on-the-job training. While it's a heady task to change the cultural attitude as a whole, partnering the schools with businesses helps fill that void.

As the General Manager of McMinnville Water and Light, Kem is dedicated to maintaining the high quality water and electricity at the lowest rates possible. As a board member at MEDP, he is passionate about strengthening the business community even more. As a citizen, he is excited to see his new home continue to flourish and thrive.

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MEDP's monthly newsletter, The MEDP Spark, received a Silver Award from the International Economic Development Council in 2017.

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