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MEDP Spark - We Need Everyone at the Table

Sep 12, 2019

MEDP Spark - We Need Everyone at the Table

Ben Franklin bench in McMinnville

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, was quoted as saying “change is the only constant in life.” In economic development, this can be a good thing. Communities and cities can be seen as living, breathing organisms that are constantly evolving and adapting to the way the world works. In McMinnville, we’ve seen a lot of changes within the past decade. In December of 2013, Evergreen filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Since then, five new businesses have moved into the large corporate buildings along Highway 18 and the City has begun the process of making even more changes to that stretch of McMinnville. In 2015, the City of McMinnville passed a $24 million transportation bond. Since then, we’ve seen new lights put in on 5th and 2nd street, had the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Alpine Avenue, and the Newberg-Dundee bypass has finally, and blessedly, opened. At the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) we’ve seen changes of our own. With additional staff, new programs, and more, we are embracing change and looking towards the future. This month, I sat down with MEDP’s new Executive Director, Scott Cooper, to learn what’s in store for MEDP in the next year.

Lacey Dykgraaf: First, for those who don’t know, tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to McMinnville.

Scott CooperScott Cooper: I spent the first few years of my career doing economic development in Iowa. It was heavily recruitment and business retention & expansion (BR&E) based. I was able to learn the basics in a small community that had a lot of activity and a lot of success in the manufacturing world. I was able to get enough experience and training that I had the opportunity to go to Scottsdale, Arizona, which for an Iowa boy in the middle of winter, was a pretty easy decision to jump at. I spent the next seventeen years in Scottsdale, Peoria, and Fountain Hills learning what it was like doing economic development in a major metropolitan area. It’s funny, after 25-28 years of Iowa winter, 17 years of Arizona summer started to seem brutal as well. Thanks to the efforts of people like Visit McMinnville luring us to wine country in Oregon, we had been up here to visit and really enjoyed it. We loved the people, loved the atmosphere, loved the community and started looking for opportunities. The opportunity at MEDP popped up and I was excited about it. I feel very fortunate to have this position and to work for MEDP and the community.

What does economic development mean to you?

In its simplest form, it's increasing the economic well-being of its residents and its local businesses. It’s raising the quality of life for the community.

Where is MEDP going in the next year?

We will work to continue to advance the programs and systems that have been in place and increase the economic opportunities for area residents and our local business industry. Our largest focus will be on BR&E. I see in the next year formalizing, developing, and reaching out to as many of our targeted industries that will allow us to meet with them. With 90+ manufacturers, that’s a large goal, it’s pretty much two companies a week, and that’s aggressive.

Why do you believe BR&E is so important?

Existing companies define your community and your future. If your existing businesses and industries are successful, they’re growing, they’re adding jobs, and they’re adding money to the local economy. It’s so vital that they be successful because they are the backbone of the community. BR&E will set our path and our attraction efforts. Great relationships with existing businesses are important to get to know what they’re thinking so we can adjust or we can help in areas where they’re successful and more importantly, areas that need attention. It’s such a core effort. It’s also the most cost-effective economic development tool. They’re already here and they’re here for a reason. They want to be here because it’s a successful environment to do business in. It’s part of our job to make sure that the environment continues to allow them to grow.

Coming into McMinnville, what was one thing that surprised you?

One thing that surprised me was the level of interconnectivity between the organizations and the community. This community is heavily involved. I was really impressed with the way the community works together to accomplish things. Whether it’s Visit McMinnville, us at MEDP, the McMinnville Downtown Association, or the Chamber - all being what I would consider the economic development arms of the community - their boards, staff, and directors are so conscientious and care so much about the community and what’s best for it. It’s rarer than you realize. It doesn’t exist in every community. It doesn’t exist in every organization. I noticed it when I was visiting too. You spend time in a community and if you look at the right things and ask the right questions and talk to the people in the area, you get a good feel for the public’s perception. I talked to residents, people who worked in shops and tasting rooms. They’re going to tell you what it’s really like. I would not be here if it was not a positive reaction.

Three Mile Lane Aerial View
Aerial view of Three Mile Lane

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for McMinnville?

I think McMinnville has an opportunity to think bigger. I don’t necessarily mean growth and expansion and more population. I don’t mean think bigger in that vein. I mean think grander. Think about the opportunities that are here and what they could become. I think about the airport and Three Mile Lane and the opportunities that exist along that stretch to be an employment corridor. The utilization of that area and the airport and the access that it has could have such a positive long-term impact. You could create an employment campus. An innovation campus that incorporates the land, the airport, that access, and its people. I think it’s a great opportunity to attract small companies that are at the high end in wages. You’ve got one shot on vacant property, make the best of it. I know the City is going through the Three Mile Lane plan and it’s the perfect chance to set that area for future generations.

Within the next year, what do you hope to accomplish in McMinnville?

We are in the process of rolling out our economic development strategic plan that focuses on four strategic goals: Business Retention & Expansion, Business Attraction, Workforce Development, and Innovation Development. The BR&E plan and the formulation of that plan is really important and a year from now, we will have met with as many people as will let us talk to them and we’ll be deciphering all of that information - putting it together in a report and finding out our pathways for the next year and the following year. I really think these strategic goals will help us focus our efforts in the coming years.

Part of MEDP’s annual event is the idea that “everyone has a seat at the table.” Can you speak to that a little more?

We can only be as successful as the input we get from our partners. We want to push the economic development conversation with as many businesses as we can to learn as much as we can, to guide as much as we can, and to help as much as we can. That’s what we’re here for. When we say ‘have a seat at the table’ what we mean is that they have a voice in our direction. We want to know, what are the issues? What are the barriers to growth? What are their plans? What does the future look like? And how can we best position ourselves to assist them to accomplish what they need to accomplish? We can’t be everything to all, and I understand that. But by inviting everyone to the table, we can help. We can become a better resource. I don’t want to be a reactive economic development organization. I want to be a proactive economic development organization. I want to be in front helping, not assisting after decisions have already been made.

Is there anything else we should know?

MEDP and the City of McMinnville have done a great job. Our partners, investors, businesses, and community have done a great job in positioning themselves over decades for success and it shows. It’s a wonderful community full of a big cross-section of industry and new opportunities. It’s an exciting place to work. I have a lot of friends and former colleagues who ask how it’s going up here and I say “I love this organization. I love the community.” It’s exciting to be a part of something that is always evolving. I think that’s McMinnville. I think that’s MEDP.

Annual Event Invite

Learn more about MEDP and our plans for the future at our Annual Event and Awards Ceremony on October 3, 2019. Tickets are available now.

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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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