Sitting next to a colleague recently I mentioned we were doing a special section on Madras. She said, Madras? What could be going on it Madras? Indeed.
A new city hall, performing arts center, airport and industrial park expansions, retail upgrades, commercial drones and its own winery makes Jefferson County a hot spot for growth in our region. What Facebook and Apple have done for Prineville, economic officials say aviation could do for Jefferson County.
Despite concerns that manufacturing jobs in Jefferson County are showing a very slow recovery, new firefighting contracts with Erickson Aero Tanker, which recently set up their national headquarters at the Madras Airport, could create up to 50 jobs.
In addition, there remains great potential in developing an industry related to commercial applications of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Conservative projections estimate that the UAV industry could produce 1,400 jobs and $120 million in payroll for the region.
The Warm Springs Indian Reservation is staged as an ideal test site for the drones due to its unique topography, low population and relatively clear airspace. Economic Development for Central Oregon and OSU are working with a $2.5 million federal grant to get authorization from the FAA which would allow sites in Oregon to be certified. As this industry grows drones can be adapted to firefighting, search and rescue, agriculture, wildlife and habitat management uses.
The Madras Airport with improvements totaling nearly $17 million over the past decade that include lengthening and strengthening the runway to accommodate jets and the numerous enhancements at the Madras Industrial Park are setting the stage to attract new traded sector companies, particularly in the aviation field.
Bright Wood Corp, a secondary wood products manufacturer that has long roots in Madras since 1960, grew 15 percent last year after cutting its workforce nearly in half since 2008. Meanwhile Double Press Manufacturing, which makes hydraulic presses that compresses and seals bales of hay, is struggling to find enough skilled welders who can read engineering drawings to sustain its rapid growth.
If quality schools are any indication of a community’s growth both the Madras High School and the Warm Springs K-8 Elementary School are getting significant improvements due to a $26 million bond approved by voters in 2011. Madras will finally have its own performing arts center and new athletic facility. Meanwhile Warm Springs will receive a sorely needed brand new elementary and junior high school.
The Central Oregon Community College Madras branch campus, which opened in 2011, has seen continued growth in enrollment meeting the community’s need for education and workforce training. The welders program will help companies like Double Press, Keith Manufacturing and Shielding International develop a skilled workforce.
The new city hall, police station and public plaza opened last month and was designed to reflect the history and future of Madras, and to serve as a gathering place for the community for generations to come. Joining in this upgrade of community resources will be $10 million in improvements over the next four years at the St. Charles-Madras Hospital that include an operating wing, imaging department and emergency room along with new heating, ventilation and cooling systems.
Despite double-digit employment rates in this rural community Joe Krenowica, Madras/Jefferson County Chamber executive director, says there are visible signs of improvements and even retail businesses are feeling more confident. As an example, Bend-based Thomas Sales & Service recently opened a used car lot downtown.
Madras is strategically located as the closest Central Oregon community to the Portland metropolitan area. The county boasts impressive high desert attributes such as majestic views of Mt. Jefferson, year-round recreational activities at Lake Billy Chinook, fly fishing on the Deschutes and Metolius Rivers, burgeoning agriculture and an abundant, pure water supply from the Opal Springs aquifer as well as a vast basalt quarry with extremely dense rock for use as jetty stone, road and rail aggregate, soil amendment and basalt fiber. Earth2o of Culver takes advantage of this water source as a regional bottled water distributor.
Agriculture remains a predominant source of income with vegetable, grass and flower seeds, garlic, mint and sugar beets cultivated on some 60,000 acres of irrigated land with Jefferson County leading the world in carrot seed production.
However it appears that the industrial, manufacturing and aviation sectors are paving the way for economic resurgence in employment. Next time you drive through Madras and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, slow down a little and you’re notice some vibrant opportunities.