But Newport, the county seat, does have plenty to cheer. The commercial fishing fleet is the most successful on the West Coast excluding Alaska, landing 124 million pounds of fish valued at $53 million in 2014. It’s the 11th highest in the nation by quantity and 23rd highest in the nation by value, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The Port of Newport, which rebuilt its international terminal in 2014, continues working to raise funds for a new $6.5 million shipping facility, while upriver, the Port of Toledo is poised to become the first port between Kodiak, Alaska and San Diego, Calif., to offer a 600-ton mobile boat lift.
Meanwhile, Newport continues to build on its reputation as the ‘Woods Hole’ of the West as growth in marine science and education continues to bloom. In March OMSI opened its new marine science camp, the Coastal Discovery Center at Camp Gray, expected to serve 5,000 people annually. Less than five years after the grand opening of NOAA’s new Pacific Marine Operations Center, the federal agency announced it will transfer as many as 20 positions to Newport from its Silver Spring, Md., offices. That comes as Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center embarks on a $50 million project that will add both housing units and classroom space.
Growth spurt: Bob Cowen, director of the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center. The institution is undertaking a $50 million expansion.
“As part of the expanding operations at Hatfield, we are anticipating accommodating as many as 500 students, about 400 being upper-division undergrads and 100 graduates,” says Bob Cowen, director at Hatfield. “We will add 20 to 25 faculty members, and each faculty member has graduate students, staff and grants. So we’re expecting over the next 10 years a fair amount of growth out here. It is the desire of the university to better bring its mission and education out to the coast. Plus, OSU’s stature in the marine science world is growing by leaps and bounds.”
The growth at Hatfield could be one piece of the puzzle toward increasing the types of jobs that will make it possible to attract and keep the younger population here, and not just for highly degreed professionals, Cowen says.
“We’ll have a very positive impact in several ways on the local economy and jobs. One, we will be creating many new jobs, not just for high-level Ph.D.s, but each faculty researcher typically has two or three staff technicians who work with them, and that opens up a lot of opportunity for jobs for the young. The way this program is set up, it’s not just technical marine science, but we will reach almost every sector on the coast that has any interest in the marine environment: tourism, art, the technical side of supporting research or ship operations.”
But creating good-paying jobs is only part of the workforce challenge here. There is also a need for skilled/trained workers. That’s where Oregon Coast Community College comes in. It is one of only two Oregon community colleges out of 17 reviewed to be in a “growth mode,” according to Ryslinge.
“The next set of programs we are considering includes a broader set we are loosely calling the trades,” she says. “Those might include entry-level welding, blueprint reading, safety using tools. The challenge about having technical education in rural areas is we just don’t have the population to run a full-scale program. We’ll hear ‘We really need welders,’ but it’s two or three positions. The Port of Newport might hire three people, but that won’t sustain a program. We’ve asked the local employers to work with each other to come up with sets of needs that are common across the industries. It’s not a total solution but part of the solution. We certainly are committed.”
And while the population lacks diversity in age, the mix of ethnicities is changing. The Hispanic/Latino population grew 72% percent from 2000 to 2010, or an average of 7.2% per year. From 2010 to 2014, the population grew 7.9%, according to Jason Jurjevich, assistant director at Portland State University’s Population Research Center.
“If you look at Lincoln County as a whole, it grew 0.3% per year over the 2000s,” says Jurjevich. “But the Hispanic population over that same period grew at 7.2% or about 20 times faster.”
Despite those numbers, the city hasn’t done such a good job of reaching out to the minority population about matters such as community planning, Tokos says. He hopes to help change that.
“The city is going to be embarking on a visioning process,” he says. “There is a general recognition that we need to reach out to the community to gauge where things stand, what is the comfort level with city services, schools, the port. Where do you want Newport to be, say, between now and 2040?”
The population in terms of age may not be as diverse as the county would like, but there is no doubt the large number of retirees and elderly are driving the health care economy. Tokos gets calls regularly from developers looking to do new assistedliving facilities, he said.
In Newport voters recently approved $57 million in general obligation bonds to build a new hospital campus. “We have been watching the current occurrence, as well as continued predictions for a much greater portion of our population being elderly,” says David Bigelow, CEO of Samaritan Pacific Health Services. “The elderly use health care more frequently. That has been driving our need to address physical facilities.”
Likewise, in Lincoln City at the Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital, work is underway to design its new facility. “Our emergency rooms are sort of busting at the seams at various times,” says Dr. Lesley Ogden, Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital CEO. “We’re looking at our demographics, the growing elderly, the aging facilities. It is just the perfect storm.”
With its rural setting, the distance from larger cities and a cost of living that generally requires dual family incomes, Lincoln County will likely always face certain challenges in offering the opportunities necessary for the young to make the coastal community home. But for some, leaving is just not an option.
Count entrepreneur Jesse Dolin, 37, founder of Stoney River Sinkers, among them. Dolin is an avid fisherman but also committed to taking care of the earth. When he realized he was fishing with toxic lead sinkers, the only sinkers available, he decided it was time for a change. His solution? Marble sinkers. “It’s the only thing from a fish environment that a sinker could be made of,” Dolin says. His sinkers are catching on, available in about 20 Oregon stores, but Dolin still works a full-time job to support himself.
“My fiancée and I are doing a lawn and garden business, just to be together,” Dolin said. “It is a tough job market out here.”
But he wouldn’t be anywhere else.
“I spent a chunk of my youth here,” Dolin says. “I moved away to Hawaii for close to 10 years. The whole time I was there, I was dreaming of pine trees and blackberries. I am drawn to the abundance here. I’ve spent my whole life following jobs round. This time, because of my love for the area, I just went for it and bought my home here on faith. I feel like it is paradise.”