A High Desert town diversifies.
Crook County was especially hard-hit by the recession. From 2009 until early 2014, the county had the state’s highest unemployment rate, clocking in as much as 19%. But the region’s economic outlook improved considerably in 2011, when Facebook opened a data center in Prineville. Soon afterward, Apple started building two facilities for the company’s iCloud service there.
Multinationals are attracting most of the attention, but they aren’t the only ones bringing new employment opportunities. EnviroTech Services, a maker of chemical deicing fluid, recently opened a manufacturing plant. Hillsboro Aviation started a flight school at the county-owned airport. Local business Woodgrain Millwork, which manufactures moulding and other wood products, is expanding, and Bend-based St. Charles Hospital is building a new facility: the St. Charles Prineville.
Why is Prineville such a draw? “Certainly Central Oregon’s quality of life is a factor for many businesses, but economics is the driver,” says Steve Forrester, Prineville’s city manager. “We understand where business entities are coming from, what motivates them and the value they place on time.” Forrester, like many city staff members, spent much of his career in the private sector. “We’re solutions based and customer focused.”
Several factors are helping attract new companies to the area, says Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, a public-private partnership. He ticks off a list: the region’s climate (lower nighttime temperatures mean spending less money on air-conditioning), affordable commercial property, and availability of power and water. Prineville and Crook County did sweeten the pot by offering Facebook and Apple 15-year property tax exemptions. Forrester doesn’t know how much revenue they are giving up every year, but he acknowledges the amount is “significant.”