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Partners for Rural Innovation Center: One Year Later

Oh what a difference a year can make.
May 2, 2018

It’s been exactly 15 months since the Partners for Rural Innovation Center on Third Street opened its doors as the new home for OSU Extension Service, the Economic Development Council of Tillamook County, Visit Tillamook Coast, OSU Open Campus, the TBCC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the main home for Tillamook Bay Community College’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Degree program.

Prior to that, the vision of how these organizations could work together was little more than a daydream – a hope for the economic success of Tillamook County and collaboration between OSU and TBCC that spans almost a decade.

In fact, the original concept for a Partners building was sketched out back in 2009, when OSU Open Campus landed in Tillamook, and was operating under the leadership of Jeff Sherman. The TBCC President at the time, Jon Carnahan, envisioned a better-working partnership and began brainstorming a plan that included a shared space.

State funding was requested and later approved in 2014 under the tenure of President Dr. Connie Green. She nurtured and grew the concept expanding the original vision to include additional educational and workforce development partners. In 2015, the TBCC Board of Education voted to move the project forward. The state funding required a match before it could be released and President Green went to the community for support.

“Connie believed if all of these organizations – not just the college and OSU – had a shared space where they could collaborate and work collectively on issues and opportunities shared across their areas of expertise, that our entire county would benefit,” said Heidi Luquette, Executive Director for the TBCC Foundation, which supported the fundraising efforts for the building. “Now, TBCC’s current President Dr. Ross Tomlin is at the helm to steward the partnerships into the future.”

A Catalyst for Collaboration

Looking back one year later, it is clear those original goals were anything but lofty, as the new space has become a catalyst for collaboration and community impact even quicker than anticipated. In less than a year, the Partners have positively impacted career and college readiness, and small business and economic development in Tillamook County.

Last year the Partners building accommodated more than 400 events – ranging from weekly after-school programs, summer camps for youth, health and fitness programs for seniors, and even community meetings, banquets, informal gathering, and the venue for Tillamook High School prom.  The diversity of events is made possible due to the types and flexibility of space available, including a classroom, meeting room, spacious conference room, and demonstration kitchen.

Proximity Matters

“We wouldn’t be able to do the quality of work we’re doing if it weren’t for this new location,” said Nan Devlin with Visit Tillamook Coast. “The proximity of our offices fosters relationships; in order to use this building you’re always walking past someone’s office and popping in to get their advice or opinion on something.”

“Being able to work with OSU Extension, and particularly Hayden Bush at Open Campus has been instrumental in getting this food trail off the ground,” Devlin said. “Hayden has helped us tell the agritourism story and helped connect us to farmers and producers.”

Down the hallway from Visit Tillamook Coast, Hayden Bush is coordinating the efforts for OSU Open Campus as well as leading TBCC’s Agriculture and Natural Resources degree, which over the past year increased from three students per course to nine – with one course capping out at 25 students.

“TBCC Agriculture and Natural Resources students have found a place to not only partake in classes, but also study and connect with other industry professionals at our new building,” Bush said. “Being co-located with OSU Extension has allowed students to connect with academic

professionals by literally walking across the hall.  Since this building serves as a community meeting hub, students are constantly being introduced to other industry professionals that work directly in the career fields that these students are seeking.”

Expanding Relationships

The relationship between OSU Open Campus and TBCC faculty is indeed expanding, and even garnering national attention. The University of Missouri Extension Service, paid a visit to the Partners Building to learn more about the partnership between OSU Extension Service, OSU Open Campus, and how they collaborate on projects with TBCC and even Tillamook High School.

“It is rewarding to see others interested in this unique model we have built, and the value it brings to students in the program,” said Dr. Ross Tomlin, TBCC President. “It’s working very well, and has only been enhanced by the new building. Striking up conversations in the hallway creates a synergy that can foster all kinds of growth that we wouldn’t have pictured before.”

Case-in-point, the growth in the Agriculture and Natural Resources degree program and community interest has called for an expansion to include a Career Pathway certificate in Forest Technology, and a new Associate of Science in Forestry degree.

A Place to Grow

OSU Extension Service has also grown their services in the last year.

“There’s really no comparison in the work we can do here compared to our old building,” said Troy Downing, Dairy Specialist, and County Leader for OSU Extension. “We have a lot of employees in the Extension office and we have partnerships all over the county, but we could never all meet in the same room before like we can now,” he added. “Then when you tack on the beautiful demonstration kitchen, the spacious parking lot – it’s hard to put it all in perspective, but it all makes for such a more convenient space to work… Any one thing seems sort of small, yet collectively it’s been pretty neat.”

Just last summer OSU Extension hosted 23 camps at the Partners building, enrolling nearly 200 students ranging in ages from 6 to 16. All of these students had an opportunity to learn inside a college campus. “That was one of Connie’s main focal points while we were fundraising. She wanted to see youth-based programs inside this building so that students would feel comfortable walking into a college building in the future,” Downing said.

Downing said he’s also found value in getting to know the other organizations more in depth. “Just understanding the resources available from the TBCC SBDC and being able to send producers over there for classes makes a huge difference in the work we’re able to do,” he said. “I’m hoping down the road that this [building] is something that serves our community in ways we can’t even imagine.”

One of those ways came to fruition earlier this month, when the Partners received word they received a $45,000 grant from  Business Oregon, the state’s economic development organization, for their grant application to the Rural Opportunity Initiative.

The funding will be used for three programs: relaunching the Recipe to Market classes conducted by Oregon State University Extension and Small Business Development Center; creating a Tillamook County brand or co-brand of foods to enhance marketing efforts; and a feasibility study on the creation of a food hub to improve distribution of foods, such as fish, meat and produce, between local and regional buyers and sellers.

Resources for the Future

The Partners building was the first capital campaign in the history of TBCC, and was met with open arms by a number of major donors and supporters – including a $200,000 donation from the Tillamook County Creamery Association and $100,000 from Pelican Brewing Company. Helen Gienger and the Robert Riggert Family Foundation were first to step forward with support. The campaign increased the TBCC Foundation donor list by nearly 20 percent, with 75 individuals, 21 businesses and seven foundations providing financial support. They also gained two new major donors, each of which has also started a scholarship through the Foundation.

“Tillamook County has worked very hard to build these resources,” Tomlin said. “We are also working very hard to ensure we are good stewards of them. I hope the community sees these positive changes taking place and is proud and excited about what our future holds.”