By Jon Bell
For small businesses in Newport like Elliott and Daniella Crowder’s Bike Newport, increased activity in marine science has helped boost business in a town traditionally driven by fishing, tourism and logging. “Things are starting to move toward a lot of marine science, research, education and business,” Daniella Crowder says. “Now that the NOAA ships are in, I believe businesses are starting to see an economic impact. I know we have.”
Daniella and Elliott Crowder have owned their coastal bike shop, Bike Newport, since 2005, when they sold their restaurant in Grants Pass and headed for Newport. In that time, they’ve built a solid biking business and because they also offer laundry, showers and a lounge, the shop has become a destination for hundreds of cyclists who pedal the length of the Oregon Coast every summer.
In addition, the Crowders have found themselves catering to another niche in Newport as well: riders related to the hub of marine science and ocean research that’s been rising in Newport over the past few years. Not only does Bike Newport do a decent amount of business with employees of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, but several of those employees also make up the shop’s racing team. And since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration moved its Pacific Marine Operations Center to Newport from Seattle in 2011, the Crowders have been servicing many NOAA employees, many of whom bike as their main mode of on-land transportation.
“We have personally seen a lot of repair business from the NOAA staff and ships,” says Daniella Crowder. “The crews often have bikes on board to use when they get to a new port and they take quite a beating when out at sea.”
The anecdotal uptick is a sign to Crowder and others in Newport that NOAA, the HMSC and other endeavors associated with oceanic research are starting to make economic waves alongside the small community’s more traditional economic engines.
“The traditional economic structure in Newport has always been fishing, tourism and logging,” says Shawn Rowe, a marine education and learning specialist at HMSC, “and while none of those are going away, now there’s a fourth leg of the stool around ocean sciences.”
Although the NOAA relocation — its $38 million facilities, six ships, estimated 175 jobs and potential economic impact of nearly $20 million a year — has grabbed most of the attention around Newport of late, other research-related endeavors have been churning as well. At the science center, Rowe is also the director of education for Oregon Sea Grant, which is part of a national organization that funds research in coastal and Great Lakes states. In October, the National Science Foundation awarded Oregon Sea Grant a five-year, $2.6 million research grant to study how people learn across their lifespan and how to improve those experiences.
Newport, which is home to not only the HMSC but also the Oregon Aquarium, is an ideal place for such research, Rowe says, in part because of the sheer number of people who visit both places for educational experiences. HMSC, which employs close to 300 people, sees 150,000 visitors a year, including 12,000 students, and the aquarium draws nearly half a million.
Even though the grant will result in only two jobs, Rowe says receiving such a large grant — the largest in Oregon Sea Grant’s 40-year history — from a prominent national foundation will help further boost HMSC toward the ranks of big-league ocean research centers like the renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
“We are becoming a hub for this kind of activity,” Rowe says, “and Hatfield is getting up into that same league.”