Feb 14, 2014
by ROLAND WHITE CBN Feature Writer
Madras is a city that is capitalizing on its history of agriculture, industry and transportation to pave a stronger future for their economy and citizenry. Incorporated as a city in 1910, the towns of Madras, Culver and Metolious were communities that were formed as service centers for agriculture and railroad transportation in Jefferson County.
Remaining strong agriculturally over the years, Madras experienced an economic boom in transportation when the U.S. Army built an Air Base during World War II. The airport is still capable of accommodating the B-17 Flying Fortress with one of the longest runways in Oregon. With this strong economic and historical background, Madras continues to develop important new projects that will bond its place in Aviation History.
For the Madras Municipal Airport there was a ground breaking event this past August for the new 65,000 square foot Erickson Aircraft Collection Facility that will house the Aero Tanker fleet and the Erickson war bird collection currently stored at the Tillamook Navel Air Station. This is in addition to leasing a 44,000 square foot hanger to service its air fleet for firefighting operations.
Glen Newton, operations manager for Erickson Aero Tanker, says, “When the new facility is complete it will house 20-22 aircraft that is a part of Jack Erickson’s collection dating back to World War II.”
EDCO Manager for Jefferson County Janet Brown added, “Having Erickson’s war birds in Madras is exciting and will be a huge attraction for history and airplane buffs. Having someone the caliber of The Erickson Group building their newest company in Madras is super and having the Erickson aircraft collection here is icing on the cake! They are great community partners and have used local supplies and talent in their development and expansions.”
Brown explains, “Our new shining star in 2013 was Erickson Aero Tanker... Erickson will expand in 2014. They have purchased three DC-7 air tankers, seven MD-87 commercial airliners and are in the final stages of retrofitting and certifying the next generation of air tankers for aerial firefighting on state forest lands. They were awarded a 10-year USFS contract and will be fighting fires this season across the U.S. this season.”
The new airport structures are being built by CS Construction and were designed by Steel Associates Architecture. Principal Scott Steele says, “We’re very pleased that Erickson selected us to be the architect for their new Erickson Aircraft Collection facility. It has been an exciting project and the Erickson Group has been wonderful to work with. We’re also excited for Madras as we feel this facility, along with the general aviation building we designed in the past, will catalyze more development and interest at the airport and boost the economy of Jefferson County.
CS Construction has done a fine job putting the project together and has worked diligently through some harsh construction weather to stay of schedule. I also want to recognize the effort of Steele Associates Team members Steve Hockman, Krista Appleby, Summer Oman, Adam Stephen and consultants Hickman Williams & Associates and Froelich Consulting Engineers.”
Madras Mayor Melanie Widmer said, “The airport is adding a new all weather navigation system to its list of airport amenities. In addition the City has applied for a Connect Oregon grant which would make major runway improvements and replace an aging fuel tank. There is also a WWII Veterans’ Memorial that is under construction and should be a very nice tribute to our veterans.”
Widmer has other reasons for feeling upbeat about Madras, “Our existing large employers have been doing well and adding employees. The passage of the 509J school bond is also resulting in significant projects including a new K-8 school in Warm Springs, and a new performing arts center at Madras High School.
“The City of Madras has been working with a firm to try to locate a solar farm here. We are also looking forward to opportunities relating to the designation of a nearby UAV, Drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) test area.”
Recently Jefferson County was included in the areas selected as Test Zone areas for drone research in Oregon. Brown explains, “There are multitude of uses that will help with farming, forest and public safety. We prefer the term UAS or UAV representing unmanned vehicles and systems in the air, on land, on water and even underwater.
EDCO has led the charge the past several years in having Oregon named as one of the six new test sites in the U.S. and expanding the UAV industry in Central Oregon. With the recent announcement by FAA that Oregon is in fact one of the new test sites in the Country, as part of the Pan Pacific test area with Alaska and Hawaii, Central Oregon and particularly Madras and Warm Springs, are poised to benefit from the newly designated test sites on the Warm Springs Reservation.
“We hope to attract companies who not only manufacture the vehicles, but make the systems such as cameras, sensors, measuring equipment, etc. that are attached to the UAVs.”
The use of UAVs has not been mentioned as much for agriculture as for defense in the media but they have a proven need in that industry as Brown says, “Jefferson County has the largest agriculture base in Central Oregon and produces some of the largest amounts of vegetable and specialty seed in the United States. Precision agriculture using UASs will be a major focus for Jefferson County. Other targeted uses that will enhance the economy include wildlife counts, search and rescue, fire and safety. Other components include training pilots to operate the vehicles, data streaming and collection of data to turn it into something the farmer, firefighter or search and rescue volunteer can understand and use.
“Madras was also successful in receiving state IOF (Immediate Opportunity Funds) and Special Public Works grants for job creation. Through local partnerships the required match was met to several key areas that serve several key industries and transportation routes.”
Jefferson County is proactive in wanting to continue to attract economic activity by making an inventory of available industrial lands, creating an Enterprise Zone and improving transportation infrastructure. Brown says, “I am not only the Jefferson County EDCO manager, but also the enterprise zone manager. I worked several months with Erickson, the county and its three cities to reach agreement and an enterprise zone approval available to companies in Oregon who meet strict criteria for number of employees, investment and wages.”
Brown has been working with the Jefferson County GIS manager on mapping vacant industrial land in Madras. “Working with the city and county we are documenting what industrial land is truly available and have begun the process of expanding those lands so that we have a strong supply and variety of land for the next decade. The City of Madras currently has airport-industrial land for lease at very reasonable rates, the least cost in Central Oregon. Within the airport-industrial park we have flat developable land, a strong and growing general aviation airport, BNSF/UP rail, infrastructure and Highways 26 and 97 adjacent or close by.”
Another major achievement for Madras is its new City Hall and Police Station, a beautiful new 15,000 square foot building with inviting public plaza. The city has recently donated land to the County which is under application for a $25 million grant to fund the construction of a new County Court House and Civic Center in the near future.
REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT
Another positive sign for Jefferson County is more activity in both residential and commercial real estate. Rick Allen, broker with The Lowe’s group, says, “The price in the market has bottomed out over the last six months for commercial and residential real estate. For residential anything under a $100,000 is grabbed by investors for rental housing and new rentals on the market are rented almost instantly. For both markets buyers are still looking for deals in distressed and bank owned properties. Commercial properties haven’t regained their value since the economic downturn but are gaining slowly and some sellers in and out of state are listing their properties and feeling more optimistic about the market. The listing and sale of multi-units from duplexes to apartments is ticking up, but anything overpriced isn’t selling. Residential construction has picked up as there are new homes under construction in the Yarrow neighborhood in Madras as well as other neighborhoods in Jefferson County including Warm Springs.”
Commercial, industrial and local businesses aren’t the only groups experiencing positive growth in Jefferson County as many new public and civic projects have been completed in recent years to benefit the community at large. Adding to that list improvements Mayor Widmer says, “The city completed a new segment of the Willow Creek Trail on the west side of town, which is getting a lot of use by the community. We continue to work toward the goal of having a trail system that completely encircles the city. When it is completed, the school’s new performing arts center will be a great community asset. New construction on pedestrian improvements on the south end of town including the new sidewalks and landscaping will be completed in 2014.”
Mayor Widmer concludes, “We are also seeing increase in area visits related to athletic events including swim meets at our Madras Aquatic Center and the MAC Triathlon. We have some exciting tourism prospects this year as Cycle Oregon will be stopping in Madras and along with the Aviation Museum we anticipate improved visitor numbers being a good fit with the Air Show of the Cascades. Economically, we are seeing signs of improvement and are optimistic that will continue throughout 2014.”
Brown concurs with on a better future in 2014, “Employment in Jefferson County is strong. Our long-time solid companies such as Bright Wood, Keith Manufacturing, Central Oregon Seeds/Cascade Minerals, Earth 2 O and others saw in increase in employment in 2013, a very positive sign. Employment projections for 2014 are also expected to increase.”