Regional Choices: Umatilla's Economy
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Eastern Oregon Farming Co. in Irrigon [Umatilla's neighbor], Ore., farms 11,125
acres, producing enough to feed for a year all of Vancouver, Cascade
Park, Ridgefield, Camas, Washougal, Battle Ground and La Center, with
some left over for Yacolt's annual pancake feed.
The Columbian Newspaper (Vancouver, Washington), Monday, June 8, 1992
Today, major construction projects, business expansions and retirement preferences have made Umatilla one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. In 1995, the county ranked second only to Marion County in agricultural production at $256 million. However, the number of farms in the county has dropped from a high of 2,265 in 1930 to 1,441 in 1993, and non-farm jobs are on the rise. Many of the new jobs are linked to the government clean-up of the Umatilla Army Depot. Others are connected to the construction and operation of a men's prison, the expansion of the Union Pacific Rail Yard, and a newly built Wal Mart Distribution Center. These projects are known to locals as "The Big Four," stimulating the economy through construction and the associated expansion of goods and services.
It [Wal Mart expansion] will probably hurt the businesses, but it will benefit the community.
Hermiston Mayor, Frank Harkenrider, 1999
As Umatilla enters the global economy, megafarms, megastores, megaprisons, and megaprojects shape the future. The Department of Labor and Industries projects Umatilla County will outpace all other areas in the state with a 36.8% increase in jobs between 1996 and 2006. The Wal Mart store in Hermiston is currently expanding from 72,000 square feet to a 210,000 square foot "megastore." Although the expansion will provide an additional 225 service-related jobs, growth will demand affordable housing, expanded water, health care, transportation, sewer, schools, and other systems.
[Y]ou're talking about jobs [prisons] that
aren't going to get caught in an economic cycle.
Umatilla City Manager, Martin Davis, 1999
Recently, local officials battled with Governor John Kitzhaber over building a women's prison in Umatilla. Kitzhaber wanted the prison built closer to Oregon's urban centers. Umatilla officials wanted it in their town. Although Kitzhaber won, the prison battle made one thing clear - Umatilla is still searching for a stable economic foundation.