Planning for tech investments that don't compromise farmland protections

In August 2022, a task force cochaired by Governor Kate Brown, Senator Ron Wyden, and PGE CEO Maria Pope published initial recommendations for how to position Oregon as a competitive state for investments in chip manufacturing, research, and development authorized under the CHIPS and Science Act 2022. The recommendations spanned different issue areas:  talent and workforce, financial incentives, environmental regulations, university-industrial partnerships, and industrial land. 

One focus for these recommendations was centered around industrial land. 

In October 2022, the Governor’s Office convened another group of state legislators, business interests to discuss recommendations for legislative concepts and budget requests. This time 1000 Friends of Oregon had a seat at the table. 

So what’s 1000 Friends of Oregon’s initial response to these recommendations? 

Oregon’s land use planning program gives all of us an opportunity to take a holistic approach to balancing environmental, economic, and recreational needs for all Oregonians. As the statewide watchdog organization created to protect Oregon’s people, prosperity, and iconic places in land use decisions, 1000 Friends offers initial reflections in this emerging conversation:

  • Maximize land inside the existing urban growth boundary alongside existing infrastructure. There are specific ways to accomplish this, including: 
    • Fund local planning efforts to enable parcel consolidation and horizontal agreements to create larger-acreage industrial sites. Over decades, property owners have split industrial lots. Horizontal agreements, along with local planning assistance, can repair this fragmentation and create some larger industrial lots for the semiconductor industry.  
    • Fund local planning efforts to rezone vacant commercial sites and parking lots. In the last three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the direct-to-consumer economy, diminishing the need for big-box retail, shopping outlets, brick-and-mortar establishments, and associated parking lots. 
    • Fund brownfield restoration efforts to create industrial sites. 1000 Friends has been a proud partner of a diverse coalition to bring more resources to restore brownfields so it fits health and safety standards for development.  
  • Support local and regional viable economic goals outside of the Portland Metro region. The Blue Ribbon Task Force’s report identifies a competitive edge for regions with tech-clustering, especially with strong connections to educational workforce initiatives. This offers an opportunity to identify potential partnerships with and near Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) and Oregon State University (let’s not forget their success in bringing $200 million into Oregon for a semiconductor research center). 
  • Identify and condition sites to achieve the committee’s goals. For too long and too often, 1000 Friends of Oregon has voiced concerns, filed lawsuits, and testified alongside Oregonians against an all too common scenario: a local government zones a sizable acreage of land for industrial use. Months or years later, the local government approves an application to rezone that same land for a golf course, a strip mall, or a shopping mall. This undercuts Oregon’s ability to accommodate industrial uses and meet statewide planning goal 9 which requires an adequate supply of industrial land. If committee staff identifies sites for semiconductor manufacturing or research and development, the local government must approve enforceable conditions with the land to ensure success of the committee’s intended outcome. 
  • Pursue multi-benefit economic development strategies for infrastructure. The committee mentions the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure needed to make land Tier 1 status. Public funding should benefit not just this industry and not just these specific sites. Rather, the committee should identify direct and multiple public benefits for these infrastructure investments. 
  • Mitigate any adverse consequences – anticipated or unanticipated – in the semiconductor siting and operations. Oregon’s farms, ranches, forests, and scenic areas offer measurable and myriad environmental and economic benefits to all Oregonians and to those who visit Oregon (in fact, these lands and their stewards represent a driving force for visitors from around the world and the state’s second largest contributor to the economy). Any direct and related adverse impacts must be prevented, minimized, or remedied. We don’t want to create new problems while trying to achieve the task force’s goal. 
  • Incorporate the committee’s recommendations in the regular urban growth boundary analysis if committee staff propose sites outside the current urban growth boundary. If staff identify sites outside the urban growth boundary, the appropriate regulatory agency – the one with experience and jurisdiction – should incorporate this consideration into the comprehensive and data-rich analysis required to assess urban growth boundary expansions. We must remember that urban growth boundary analyses forecast jobs and housing trends over twenty years and the land anticipated to support those trends. 

Stay tuned for community forums – in-person and online – for members to learn more about 1000 Friends of Oregon’s role, raise your questions, and provide your thoughts about how we can create a win-win for our community.