Following years of “hard work and creativity,” $2 million in federal funding is headed to the Columbia River Gorge to support economic revitalization efforts, according to Sara Hottman, state communications director for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.
“This was a dang hard $2 million to secure — basically 35 years in the making,” Hottman said. As a congressman on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Merkley “was able to make this impressive legislative lift and finally secure this funding.”
The announcement is the culmination of a years-long effort to fulfill a promise made when Congress passed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act in 1986 authorizing $10 million for economic development along the Columbia River Gorge, yet only $8 million of those funds was every appropriated.
The final $2 million will be from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The Columbia River Gorge is a special place, and small, locally owned businesses are its economic backbone. Over the past several years, those businesses have dealt with the economic impacts of wildfire, severe weather and now a pandemic. I’m glad this long-awaited $2 million investment is headed into Gorge communities to help those small businesses,” said Merkley. “The timing couldn’t be better and I’m looking forward to seeing the impacts of this funding, and will continue to do all that I can to support local economies throughout our state.”
Merkley’s efforts over the years have been supported by the other members of the Northwest Congressional delegation, including U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz.
“Small businesses in the Gorge have been whipsawed in recent years by wildfire smoke, rough winter weather and a public health crisis that’s added huge challenges to remain open and keep creating jobs for Oregonians,” Wyden said. “I’m gratified this $2 million federal investment is headed to a region that’s a crown jewel among Oregon’s world-renowned natural treasures. And I’ll keep battling for similar economic development investments in every nook and cranny of our state.”
“After everything the Columbia River Gorge area has gone through over the past few years — from the tragic Eagle Creek Fire to the COVID-19 pandemic — I’m glad the small businesses who support their communities will be getting this vital federal assistance,” Murray said. “I’m thankful to my colleagues in Oregon for their work to support this region and their partnership throughout the years to bolster communities along both sides of the Columbia River Gorge. I look forward to continuing to work with them to make sure communities across the Columbia River Gorge get the help they need to recover and thrive.”
“The Columbia Gorge is a unique part of our country,” said Cantwell. “The new federal revolving loan fund will help fund economic development projects like supporting critical water infrastructure improvements needed to expand the Dallesport Industrial Park area and to attract more small businesses to Skamania County.”
“I am excited to join in announcing this $2 million investment in the Columbia River Gorge, and I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for working together to achieve this win for the region,” Bentz. “These funds will make good on a federal promise made years ago and contribute to the growth of communities struggling during this very difficult time.”
“As our economy continues to recover from the COVID pandemic, supporting our Southwest Washington communities and small businesses remains a top priority,” said Herrera Beutler. “I’m pleased to join with my northwest colleagues in making these funds available to our communities in the Columbia River Gorge. I’m going to continue advocating for employers, workers, and our mom-and-pop shops because they keep our economy running here in Southwest Washington and throughout the country.”
Most of the $2 million — $1,901,000 — will capitalize existing revolving business loan programs in the Gorge through the Oregon Investment Board and the Washington Investment Board. The boards are administered by the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD) and Skamania County Economic Development Council, respectively.
The remaining $99,000 will be used for infrastructure buildout in an industrial area in Dallesport, Wash., north of The Dalles.
Gorge recipients said the funding came at a good time.
“I appreciate Sen. Merkley’s hard work and persistence in bringing this money to the region,” said Jessica Metta, executive director of the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District. “Expanded access to capital for our small businesses is key to the Gorge economy’s well-being, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I am also grateful to the full Northwest Congressional delegation for their help, and the advocacy of so many community partners over the years that made this possible.”
“Sixteen years ago we began as a non-profit with an innovative idea to help other agricultural communities across the West. Now, as an established organization based in Hood River and providing jobs to 34 local residents, we’ve seen our ideas and partnerships deliver real results to communities across the region,” said Julie Davies O’Shea, executive director of the Farmers Conservation Alliance. “We wouldn’t exist without the partnership and early funding support we received through MCEDD, and we appreciate Sen. Merkley’s continued determination, with the support of the Gorge-area delegation, in working to secure this funding for the communities in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area as well as across the state.”