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|Articles - Nov/Dec 2012|
|Monday, November 05, 2012|
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Part of the town’s “damned good luck” is the Austin family. Ken and Joan Austin founded dental-equipment maker A-dec in 1964, now among Newberg’s biggest employers. In addition, the family’s philanthropy is considerable, such as donating land for a new elementary school. In 2009 the luxury Allison Inn & Spa opened, a personal project of Joan’s. It has garnered national and international press for its amenities and food, and along the way has helped put Newberg in the spotlight. Local leaders give it huge credit for spurring interest in the town and the Yamhill County wine industry, and for giving the region a glossy buzz that had been missing. Jory, the Allison’s restaurant, has been joined by other high-end eateries in town such as Recipe and Subterra.
Loni Parrish, the Austins’ daughter, is making her own second-generation impact. She owns a dozen buildings downtown, including the Art Elements art gallery on First Street, which opened two years ago, and the Chehalem Valley flour mill, which she wants to turn into an artists’ collective. Parrish grew up in the 1970s hanging out in downtown and remembers its slower pace and small-town charm. She wants to see that return.
“I believe in downtown,” she says. She also believes in being responsible to the community, values instilled by her parents, and has been buying and preserving Newberg’s historic buildings. “I know what they used to look like,” she says. Her vision of what is possible isn’t Napa Valley — it’s closer to home.
“People say this is what Napa used to be,” she says. “And I’m hoping it won’t turn into that. I wish we could be like McMinnville’s Third Street.”
Newberg’s other ingredients for success go beyond just luck.
With a population of 22,300, Newberg is Yamhill County’s second-largest city after McMinnville. Danicic says the town has a good mix of industries and commercial and industrial land, though not enough. The city hopes to complete a 200-acre southeast industrial expansion in the next five years. He also says that one of the city’s “hidden gems” is the Springbrook property in North Newberg, owned by the Austins, more than 400 acres with plans for residential and commercial building.
Newberg has a diverse job base. “We are not a blue-collar city,” says Andrews. “We have a lot of manufacturing and tech jobs.” Manufacturing employs the largest percentage in Yamhill County, even though manufacturing employment decreased from an average of 6,640 in 2007 to 5,900 in 2011. The bankruptcy of SP Newsprint, which operates a Newberg pulp mill, doesn’t help. The mill has been one of the town’s largest employers. Most Newberg residents were employed in the manufacturing, education and human health service sectors in 2010.
Other large employers include Current Electronics, Newberg Public Schools, Providence Newberg Medical Center and George Fox University, which has more than 2,000 students at its Newberg campus. George Fox is a well-manicured, private Christian college that employs about 500, but being a large employer is only part of its impact on the town. Rob Felton, George Fox University spokesman and president of the downtown coalition, says that during just the summer, the university brings 33,000 visitors to Newberg. The collaboration, which did not always exist between the town and the university, is growing and now important to both.
“The more attractive it is, the more attractive George Fox is,” Felton says. George Fox has growth plans of its own. It will field a football team in 2014, and will complete a $7.2 million stadium and athletic center on 23 acres donated by the Austin family.
The town is thinking in broad, connective ways. Adding to its beautifully restored and expanded Carnegie library and a revitalized summer farmers market are large projects that have been completed in the past few years, including a $50 million expansion of its sewer system now under way; an 18-hole public golf course; and a 15-acre branch of Portland Community College that opened last year, with 630 students enrolled this fall term.
Then there is the Chehalem Cultural Center, a gorgeous rethinking of a historic elementary school, which opened in 2010, showcasing artists and providing classes and performance space. The first third of the renovation is complete, and the 40,000-square-foot center needs another $5.5 million to finish the rehab.
“The impact of the CCC will be huge,” says Parrish, a passionate arts advocate who is on the center’s board and helped curate the Oregon art for the Allison.
Robert Dailey, the center’s new executive director, sees the CCC as an important part of the town’s economy. “An arts facility makes a community more attractive for investment,” he says. “This center fits perfectly into the wine economy.” In 2010, 30% (255) of the wineries and 32% (6,511 acres) of the total vineyard acreage statewide was located in Yamhill County.
Of course, as there is in all cities of every size, there is a long list of ideas that await funding. Town leaders want to eventually turn OR 99W into two-way streets in both directions to further calm the traffic. The Chehalem trail system plan is about 3% complete, according to Don Clements, Chehalem Parks and Recreation District superintendent. The plan calls for roughly 20 miles of hiking and biking trails that would connect the town to the Willamette River and to Dundee. There are also plans for a civic corridor in central downtown, a cultural district and development of the riverfront area that will be traversed by the bypass.
Along with nonexistent or shoestring budgets, declining property tax revenues and high unemployment, there is unlimited creativity and commitment. There’s a palpable sense that Newberg’s time is now.
“This used to be a dumpy little mill town. Now it’s the gateway to the wine country,” says Mike Ragsdale. “It’s time to seize the moment — and it’s an opportunity we can lose.”
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