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Adams Co. Development Council director discusses growth

Jan. 11—OTHELLO — Adams County Development Council Executive Director Kyle Niehenke attended the Port of Othello's regular meeting Tuesday morning to share some of ACDC's plans on how he will partner with the port to help its growth in the future.

"We're working on the CEDS — Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy — for Adams County, and it's part CEDS, which is the official name by the (Economic Development Administration) of the state, and then our five-year strategic plan," Niehenke said. "Obviously, in the Adams County five-year strategic plan, the port is without a doubt ... my biggest stakeholder, at least in West Adams County for Othello. I mean, you guys are the ones that 90% of what I'm going to be doing is going to be working with (Port Executive Director Chris Faix) on your guys' land, bringing major development, so major jobs, food processors, warehousing, whatever it is, you guys are my biggest ally in that. I mean, I'm going to work on other stuff, housing, small commercial and retail stuff throughout the county, but as far as developable land in the county that's ready for big (agricultural) loads, electrical, natural gas, the Port of Othello and Bruce is where it's at."

Niehenke said the idea is to create a strategic plan for the county.

"We're going to be working on what does the one-year, two-year, five-year and 10-year plan look like in Adams County because we have never really had a strategic plan for the county that was ever agreed upon by all stakeholders, even involved all stakeholders to make it and then followed and implemented like it should have been," Niehenke said. "After two years in this role, I have fact-finded and I think gotten all the stakeholders in the same room. So our first meeting is the 17th, this next week with the (Adams County) Commissioners."

Part of the plans for the future include prospective new industries and technologies, such as a conference on indoor agriculture Niehenke and Faix plan on attending in March.

"I think that would go perfectly out there in Bruce," Faix said.

Niehenke said some conferences are less beneficial to Adams County, such as those focused on large retail or commercial jobs.

"Don't get me wrong, it's important, but they're not the jobs, the ones I want to hang my hat on and say 'Look, I did a good job. I got 30 people employed at a KFC.' It's good, don't get me wrong, but I would rather say, 'Chris and I found someone that's going to open a distribution warehouse, another food processor, something that's a career family job, (like) this indoor ag. And it's a better fit," Niehenke said.

Indoor agriculture is growing in Eastern Washington.

"This indoor growing of vegetables, seasonal vegetables, is taking off and I'm sure there's some people around here that (say) 'Yeah, we can grow it outside, but we can't grow it outside 24/7,'" Niehenke said. "In order to feed a growing world, this is an industry that's emerged. The technology is there, we have low-cost electricity, you guys have water, which they're going to need a lot of, and you have land. You're not in downtown Seattle, you're not fighting land prices. So, I mean, this could be a great fit for us."

Niehenke said he wants to focus even more on the port in the future.

"Adams County as a whole needs to lean into our port district more," he said. "I mean, we have one port district. Grant County has 11, some of which are active, some of which are not, but their ports, to their credit, have done a very good job...of getting out there and marketing. And that's part of the CEDS too, is I want the county to lean into you guys more."

Marketing is key to attracting new industry to the region.

"Our region has strengths. We also need to spread our shoulders and flex a little bit on some of our competition. We have to get out there, but it has to be strategically getting out there," Niehenke said. "Just going up to random trade shows that don't have a benefit is not going to benefit the county."

Niehenke elaborated on the region's potential for growth.

"You guys have stellar ground, and I'm going to be your number one advocate," he said. "We have Avista (Utilities) on board. We have the natural gas people mostly on board. You guys control the land, and the water is a huge asset. I think we can find some good fits and at least generate interest."

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com. Download the Columbia Basin Herald app on iOS and Android.