Location, location, location.
It's not only important in real estate. It's also important in the larger realm of business and economics.
Two recent reports indicate the Yamhill Valley could be in one of the right places at one of the right times, economically speaking.
This week, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report placing Oregon second in the nation for rate of gain in real gross domestic product, a measure of the value of goods and products sold. It had Oregon at plus 4.7 percent, behind only the 7.6 percent of the oil boom state of North Dakota.
Following on the heels was a June assessment by the state's Office of Economic Analysis, which began, "A chorus of indicators suggests that economic conditions are improving for many of Oregon's families and businesses." And it was dampened only slightly by the accompanying caveat, "Unfortunately, the pace of improvement remains slower than what we have become accustomed to in past economic recoveries, and has not been shared across all communities."
The state cited strong gains in selected industries and selected parts of the state, but not across the board. It said the communities benefiting the most generally lay within an hour's drive of the Columbia River, but Jody Christensen, executive director for the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership, said that's also true for McMinnville and the Yamhill Valley.
Locally, business is picking up strongly, Christensen said. Everything from innovative startups to local business fixtures are eying expansion, she said.
Leading the way in the federal report were firms manufacturing durable goods. They experienced growth of 3.94 percent, compared to .35 percent for health care.
The weakest sector remained real estate, which experienced a loss of .28 percent. Forestry and farming weren't far behind, experiencing a loss of .21 percent.
The assessment anticipates Oregon to continue on its current track.
"Most forward-looking data suggest that growth will continue. However, there is still ample reason to believe that this growth will remain disappointing from a historical perspective, with the statewide economy likely to struggle to pick up any further momentum," it says.
The state's position is a "stunning revelation," Christensen said, "To have our industries put us on the top of a good list, it's a testament."
Christensen said manufacturers operating in McMinnville and the rest of the Yamhill Valley display an aggressive entrepreneurial spirit, and that is serving them in good stead.
"They understand where to find a niche," she said. "They're always trying to solve customers' problems. When you start asking questions from where your customer sits, it's the perfect approach."
She said that even when she feels she knows what a business does, she's often "blown away" when she gets a chance to take a tour. She said she inevitably discovers an array of products designed to meet particularly customers' desires.
It was a sad day for her when Bioanalytical Systems Inc. announced the closure of its McMinnville lab at the end of April, Christensen said. But she said two local companies, the Internet-based Swedemom.com and the tech startup Precision Analytical, have already moved into the space vacated by BASi.
She also pointed to Craftmark's move into facilities formerly owned and operated by Forest Grove Lumber. She said the decision by Craftmark, which specializes in reclaimed wood, has generated new interest in a neglected area.
Christensen said she has recently hosted some site visits that look promising as well. She believes what the Yamhill Valley is experiencing with its manufacturers mirrors what the state as a whole.
"Those who survived are a new breed - performance-minded and customer-oriented," she said. They've had to determine what they're truly superior at, then figure out how to make money on it.
Those companies are "unstoppable," she said, because they are constantly looking for more innovative and cost-effective ways to do business.
"To me, if we have a strong manufacturing base, that's the foundation that supplies everything else," she said. That's the best source of career-oriented, high-skill, living-wage jobs that can be accessed both by those just out of high school and those with college degrees.
She said finding the right people leaves many business leaders with a "deer in the headlights" look. It often proves a big challenge for them.
Some companies are taking those reins for themselves, working with local schools and creating intern programs where they can help train potential future employees. "They know their business isn't slowing down," Christensen said, and they want to be ready.
That's reflected in her business recruitment efforts, she said.
Two years ago, those looking to open a new business in the area wanted to know what incentives were available. Today, they want to know what kind of workforce is available.
"It's a whole different ballgame now," she said. "We don't have incentives, but we have a workforce, so now we're talking."
Christensen said it helps that Chemeketa Community College just announced creation of a new career center for its students. She said general community support for business is strong here as well, and it fosters valuable partnerships in the schools.
When students see the marketplace relevance in what they're learning, they don't wonder so much about, say, why they are being asked to take math, she said.
Christensen noted local companies are also getting good assistance from Worksource Oregon, Job Growers and Express Employment Professionals in landing the right people for the right jobs. That helps to build a workforce capable of carrying the region into the future as local manufacturers continue to grow their markets, she said.
By Molly Walker
Of the News-Register