There are many reasons to choose Tillamook County. The quality of life is unmatched and offers most of the services and amenities of a larger population center. It works to create a business-friendly environment while marketing the recreational paradise for those who desire the lifestyle associated with coastal Oregon living.
Tillamook County is a rural county of approximately 26,000 people. This is 1,103-square miles of opportunity with easy access to Portland. Historically, a major economic driver in the county has been the forestry sector, but as that industry experiences a decline, the Economic Development Council (EDC) of Tillamook County has been working diligently to diversify the economic composition while taking advantage of its many other natural assets.
Business in Focus had the opportunity to speak with Mike Cohen, Director of the Economic Development Council of Tillamook County to learn more about what not only brings people and investment to Tillamook County, but also what keeps them here.
“We have such a tremendous blessing of natural resources here. Because we are an oceanfront county, we have all of the advantages that come with direct access to the Pacific Ocean along our entire length.”
From an economic standpoint, agriculture has been a pillar upon which the Tillamook County economy has grown. “The agricultural community is very strong,” Cohen said. “We have a fairly large plain area – very rich fertile ground which is ideal for dairy farming, and then just east of that, we have the mountains. There’s an unbelievable mix of terrain going on here. The dairy industry has been a backbone of this economy for a very long time. We have farms here that have been in the same family for many generations.”
“We benefit from the fact that we are the closest coastal area to the Portland Metro Area. Downtown Portland is straight east of downtown Tillamook, about seventy-four miles away. That seventy-four miles is easily drivable – there and back in a day – but it prevents us from becoming a commuter community. So, in my mind, that gives us the best of both worlds.”
Natural beauty such as the coastline and the bountiful forests offer a great advantage from an aesthetic, recreational and economic point of view. “This community used to rely heavily on revenues from forestry because well over fifty percent of our county is heavily forested. That includes private forest land, state, federal; a lot of trees here, to put it bluntly,” said Cohen.
“There is always concern regarding long-term sustainability of the environment. I know the logging companies are well aware of that and continue to follow strong sustainable forestry policy, nonetheless, that aspect of the economy is diminishing and will likely never return to what it used to be.”
The EDC of Tillamook County was granted funding by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide micro-loans for entrepreneurs who were displaced by forestry industry slowdowns. “That is another piece of what this organization was doing, trying to round out the economy because it really can’t be a heavily timber-based economy,” addressed Cohen. “Timber revenues and the taxes they generate are simply no longer what they used to be.”
The EDC has been a driving force in the county for twenty years. It collaborates with many community and economic stakeholders including Tillamook Bay Community College, Tillamook Small Business Development Center, Partners for Rural Innovation, Columbia Pacific ED District, Business Oregon, Regional Solutions, and all levels of government.
“The formation of the EDC was through an intergovernmental agreement between a number of founding members. These would be the incorporated cities within the county, the ports, public utilities, county commissioners, and the Tillamook Bay Community College,” Cohen said.
“One of the things that you see in a more rural community like this is a lot of wonderful cooperative ties. So it works out well that the Economic Development Council, in terms of its staff, are all actually employees of the community college. Why recreate the wheel so to speak and have duplicated resources going to things like IT and HR?”
These partnerships are key to the EDC achieving its mission of improving the standard of living and attracting jobs and investment to the county. One example is the Port of Tillamook Bay, which offers the benefits of an industrial park complete with commercial airstrip and available land that is ideal for light industrial, warehousing, and other related uses.
“It comprises 1600 acres and is just two miles south of downtown Tillamook. It’s mostly zoned for industrial use,” explained Cohen. “The airport there has a 5,000-foot runway and thirty hangar spaces. It’s used quite a bit for private planes – also used by FedEx, UPS and that sort of thing,” he said.
“The port also provides event meeting room space. We have a microbrewer there that has a tasting room. There’s a huge open hangar building that was constructed during WWII that serves as an interesting spot for a museum and retail as well.”
Another asset of note is what is known as ‘The String of Pearls.’ It is part of sixty-six enterprise zones across Oregon – fifty-three rural and thirteen urban – that are working to promote business development and investment. Enterprise Zones offer major tax incentives in exchange for projects that create new jobs.
The largest single employer in Tillamook County is the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA), a cooperative of dairy farmers that has become internationally known for its cheese and other dairy products. Netarts Bay is world-famous for oysters and Tillamook Bay contains a bounty of Dungeness crab and clams. The picturesque Port of Garibaldi offers commercial access to these waters.
Agritourism has emerged as a growing industry in Tillamook County. So, in addition to being its largest employer, the TCCA is also one of the most highly visited locations in the state of Oregon. As a result, it is investing $24 million in an upgrade to its visitors’ center. The food, culture, climate and the natural beauty of Tillamook County all serve as major attractions.
The moderate climate is a major draw. “In the winter, you’re looking at forties and fifties,” Cohen said, noting that he has only experienced frost on his car twice in the past two years. “If you like snow, you can always go to the mountains. We’ve got Mount Hood and they have skiing there. They probably have three feet of snow on the ground already, and it’s not even the end of October. In the summer, it stays in the seventies.”
The quality of life in Tillamook County appeals greatly to younger generations as Cohen has noticed. “A lot of younger people are gravitating back to the area who want to be more connected to the basics of life and family. So, it’s not just a matter of their education, homes and things like that, but people want to know where their food comes from, and if possible, they would like to eat entirely locally-sourced products.”
“They want to be farmers and grow their own food. They want to be fishermen and go out on the ocean and catch their own fish – this back-to-basics sort of lifestyle,” Cohen said. “Most of the US doesn’t really have that option.”
The unique quality of life being offered in Tillamook County is highly appealing for those with flexible-location employment, especially those who work from home. “Why work in a cramped studio apartment in Portland, when you can do it from a beach house in Tillamook?” The cost of living in Tillamook County makes this lifestyle viable. The county also has new expanded broadband capacity.
The county is committed to scalable and sustainable growth. Because of that, those who have come to love and appreciate the quality of life in the county can enjoy peace of mind knowing that development will not disrupt this exceptional quality of life.
“This area is growing, but it has to be a controlled growth because a really explosive amount of growth would be damaging to our community. We are looking at small steps to get where we are going,” said Cohen. Tillamook County is thinking about the future and open to new ways to improve upon its economic and community foundations.
“People want to work and go to the beach and hike in the mountains, and it doesn’t need to be a hassle to do that,” said Cohen. “I meet folks all the time – really from all over the place – that come here because it’s the kind of environment they are looking for. They can do everything here; it’s amazing.”
Tillamook County even offers the benefit of a reliable public transportation system that services the coast and ‘over the hill,’ as Cohen referred to Portland. There, ridership can connect to Portland’s light rail transit system as well as Portland’s downtown. There is also public transportation that runs the length of the county, north and south.
One of the county’s plans for the future includes a facelift and overhaul of the central business district in the City of Tillamook. This project includes the rebuild of the intersection of its two main highways, US 101 and OR 6, and there will be a pedestrian mall. An entertainment district is also taking shape, which will someday be complete with multi-family housing and various services and amenities.
Access to markets, proximity to Portland, an exceptional and unique quality of life, available land, mild climate, a great education system, the largest fully-serviced industrial park on the Oregon Coast, infrastructure, services and amenities at an affordable price, no sales or inventory tax, port facilities, and a progressive leadership team should be enough to convince anyone.
Tillamook County is truly 1,103-square miles of opportunity, and the community is fully using its natural assets to strengthen its economy and its community vitality. “Oregon is the most moved-to state in the United States, for four years now. So, with people coming here from all kinds of places, we are also working hard to enhance our housing stock,” said Cohen.
“We are looking to add hotel and conference facilities, as there is becoming a pretty big demand,” he added. “Slow and steady is going to win the race, so there is a desire to get companies here, but we’re looking for ways to enhance community life, not transform it.”
Tillamook County is interested in growth and development, but not at any cost. It has built a highly desirable community brimming with potential.