Madras Marks Century of Growth and Change


The community of Madras celebrates its centennial milestone this year with plenty of reasons to trumpet a reputation for diversity and opportunity.

Incorporated in 1911, along with the nearby towns of Culver and Metolius, and reportedly named for the cotton fabric called ‘Madras’ (though it was previously known as The Basin in recognition of its location within a circular valley) the city originated as a service center for a growing agricultural hub and booming railroad industry.

During World War II, the area’s aviation-friendly year-round climate saw it experience another economic boom with the establishment of a large US Army airbase to train B-17 bomber pilots. Now incarnated as Madras Municipal Airport, the lengthy 5,000 foot-plus runway, among the most expansive in the region, is still capable of accommodating the “Flying Fortress” aircraft.

An eclectic assortment of agricultural – for example, the surrounding area in Jefferson County produces eighty percent of the nation’s carrot seed – and manufacturing enterprises, as well as a cultural mix of residents (celebrated during the annual Collage of Culture) has been a feature of the community’s history, and progress has continued to this day towards embracing change and forging a fully rounded city.
Multiple engines of growth have been employed, including, critically, the development of the city/county-owned Madras Industrial Park to the north, on some 300 acres in the vicinity of the airport.

It is the epicenter of local industrial activity, and boasts around 30 businesses with over 1,500 workers, including the Bright Wood Corp. remanufacturing plant, traditionally the county’s largest employer.

Other major employers include Keith Manufacturing Company – innovative producers of “Walking Floors” used by industry around the world (see page 18) — Mid Columbia Box, hay compression specialists Double Press Manufacturing and x-ray protective gear producer Shielding Inc., while the newest entrant to the marketplace is the 40,000-square-foot hangar facility custom-built for Butler Aircraft Company (see page 20-22).

The park also offers relocating businesses the incentives of a state-designated Enterprise Zone including eligibility for a three-to five-year property tax abatement, as well as relative proximity to the Portland metropolitan area – making it a desirable location for manufacturing or distributing products dependent on major transportation corridors.

But city leaders also had the foresight to put other “building blocks” in place as a base for evolution of the community, including the formation of an urban renewal district early this decade as well as the continuing work of the Madras Redevelopment Commission to revitalize the city core.

Projects that the MRC’s preparatory work and subsidies have helped spur include the landmark multi-story mixed-use Harriman Building housing occupants including the upscale Geno’s restaurant on a prime corner of Fourth Street; high-end hospitality facility the Inn at Cross Keys Station incorporating a 200-capacity meeting room, and a new five-screen movie theater complete with stadium-style seating set to anchor the fledgling Jefferson Square project on South Highway 97.

In fact, the prospect of a cinema was a top contender on local residents’ wish list compiled via citizen input meetings in 2004-05 regarding amenities that were perceived as engendering a more vibrant community. Others included a pool – which came to stellar fruition in the shape of the Madras Aquatic Center opened in 2008 – a new civic center area as part of giving the city a facelift and a permanent local college, which is also in the pipeline via a COCC satellite campus anticipated to break ground this summer.

The 27,000 square foot Madras Aquatic Center (MAC) was a prime example of the tight-knit community coming together to achieve a long-cherished common goal and was triggered by the passing of an $8 million construction bond and operating levy, with subsequent fundraising to help support programs undertaken by a charitable trust.

A striking beacon on the hill, it has quickly garnered a reputation as a jewel in Jefferson County, with its competitive style six-lane lap pool, multi-purpose activity pool complete with three-level slide, and a spa. Triple-glazed windows on three sides of the facility offer sweeping vistas of the Cascades Range from Mt. Bachelor to Mt. Hood, while also flooding the space with natural light to provide long term cost saving in energy consumption.

Among the many spin-off benefits is that youth no longer have to travel 45 minutes to find a public pool, and that Madras High School has been able to form its first competitive swim team, which will participate in the Intermountain Conference.

Among other highlights in the city’s continuing development are the slated $25 million+ expansion and renovation of Mountain View Hospital, one of the area’s largest private employers, and the emergence of a growing number of retailers including big name fast food operators – from KFC to Taco Bell, Papa Murphy’s and Sonic – taking notice of a location at the confluence of US Highways 26 and 97 where 20,000 vehicles a day stream through the town.

A plethora of other new businesses have sprung up over the last couple of years, including a Mid Oregon Credit Union branch, Cattleman Supply, Eagle Bakery and Brothers Family Diner II while existing home-grown businesses have continued to blossom.

In the midst of the redevelopment phase, strict building codes have been enacted to ensure Madras retains its small town flavor and country flair.

The civic center area incorporating a new city hall and police station is also currently in preliminary design phase.

Tourism has also long been recognized as an important industry for the area, and a sunny, dry climate and position as the gateway to Central Oregon from the north offers a range of outdoor recreation opportunities including whitewater rafting, water-skiing, fishing, golf, hiking and mountaineering, and ‘rock-hounding’ in the desert plateaus around Madras. The prime pleasure boating mecca of Lake Billy Chinook lies close by, as do pristine mountain wilderness areas such as the Camp Sherman and Metolius Recreation Areas.

Quality of life is another hallmark of the Madras area, which is home to five public parks including the oldest, Sahalee park, located in the center of town, which recently underwent an upgrade.

Affordable land and housing is seen as an important element of Madras’ livability, with a range of options including the newer Brooks Resources’ master-planned Yarrow community, which shares the region’s impressive panoramic mountain vistas and offers a range of lot and housing choices being developed in conjunction with a neighborhood builder group.

Holli Van Wert, Executive Director of the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, said: “Madras is really buzzing with activity and growth, and we celebrated the opening of 33 new businesses from October 2008 to may 2010.

“We also recently broke ground on our new five-plex cinema and both Mt. View Hospital and the Madras COCC Campus will be starting major projects this summer.

“We came together as a community to support each other in embracing a vision of what could happen and the result has been amazing. We are all working towards building a healthy and vibrant Madras with amenities that residents can enjoy.

“With attractions including our indoor Aquatic Center, bowling, fishing, hiking, golf and Cove Palisades State Park, Madras is the hub of Jefferson County.

“We always encourage visitors to stay a day or two and experience one of our amazing sunrises or sunsets with seven mountain peaks, and to discover what small town living is supposed to be.

“We are proud of the harmony and diversity of our community and the warmth and friendliness of our residents.”

Van Wert said celebrations in 2010 marking Madras’ 100-year birthday include a two-day event being held at Sahalee Park July 3-4, featuring games, music, entertainment, contests and a raffle drawing with a $1000 prize, as well as the Saturday Market and a Centennial car show.

July 4 also features a traditional Independence Day parade following the Todd Beamer Memorial Run and Elks Breakfast.

Madras City Administrator Mike Morgan added: “We believe Madras is a community on the move.
“We have weathered the recent times remarkably well, having not suffered the dramatic swings undergone in other urban areas.

“We are actually enjoying an expansion in the commercial sector and have seen some solid employment growth within our community.

“Several new businesses are moving into town, and expansions with Mt. View Hospital and Central Oregon Community College will translate into additional business.

“Madras has been aggressive yet selective in recruitment and the relevant businesses have seemed to thrive in a great environment to nurture growth.

“We have also just received approval for $1.7m in Connect Oregon III funds to carry out a variety of improvements at the airport, so overall we are cautiously optimistic about our future and the positive prospects for further growth.”

For more information contact the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce at 541- 475-2350.


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