Nestled within the open spaces of North Marion County lies the small town of Donald. Just off Exit 278 on Interstate 5, you would cruise right by Donald if you weren’t paying close attention – but that doesn’t mean the town isn’t worthy of it.
On the surface, Donald looks like any other small town, off of any other highway, in any other state in America. An emphasis on agriculture, a small downtown, neighborhoods lined with single-family homes, a playground by City Hall, and of course, a tavern. But as you dig deeper and look around a little more closely, you see that this town of just under 1,000 people is bustling.
Not the car horn blaring, crowded sidewalk, New York City-esque type of bustling. But rather, a more scaled down, focused, and controlled bustling (a contradiction, I know, but stay with me here).
Donald has three distinct advantages that make it so unique: the location, the people, the jobs.
You know what they say: “Location. Location. Location.”. Donald is the perfect combination of being “close-in” but “far-out” (dude, tubular). It’s close enough to city life in Portland and Salem but far enough out to offer a degree of country living. It’s close enough to I-5 for easy access but far enough away that you can’t hear it from your porch. It’s close enough to jobs but far enough out where land is still affordable. Oh, and it’s surrounded by some of the most productive farmland in the region, to boot. As a result, people want to be in Donald. The town has been growing at a pretty impressive clip and is projected to continue doing so. In fact, the most recent Population Research Center projection estimated that Donald will grow at 3.2% annually for the next 20 years, the fastest rate in Marion County and one of the fastest in the state.
In addition to its stellar location, the town has other forces working in its favor. Donald boasts one of the lowest property tax rates in Oregon. Relatively speaking, it is extremely inexpensive to own land in the City of Donald. This cheap land has attracted not only families, but businesses, and more specifically, businesses that need a lot of land – manufacturing, warehousing, employee-heavy types of businesses. And thanks to the newly formed North Marion County Enterprise Zone, these businesses get added tax benefits just for growing their business in Donald. The town has been able to attract a wide-variety of business types that has helped to diversify its economy rather than focusing on just one sector, which is so rare in small communities.
There is one little problem however, Donald is running out of room. GK Machine, the city’s largest employer, used up its UGB expansion that was supposed to last them 5 years, in just 2. And with another 30-acre warehouse site in the planning process, the employment lands in Donald are getting tight. Add in the fact that the city has developed nearly 90 percent of its residential land and it’s easy to see that Donald is quite literally bursting at the seams.
My job as a RARE AmeriCorps participant is to ensure that the past successes of Donald continue on into the long term. It is my task to determine how much housing and employment land will be needed in the next 20 years. It’s a tall task for someone essentially learning on the job, but the experience I’ve gained from getting to work in such a unique community is truly invaluable. The groundwork has been laid, but it is my responsibility to ensure that the city has the tools it needs to be able to make informed decisions about its future. That’s what the RARE AmeriCorps Program does so well. It brings together the people who want to make a positive change and it gets things done. It’s an anomaly within an anomaly and that’s just RARE.
About the Author: Ethan Stuckmayer received his Bacholers in Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Minnesota. He is currently a member for the RARE Americorps Program and works as an Assistant Planner at the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments in Salem, Oregon. His work at the Council includes land-use and long range planning, as well as community and economic development for the cities of Donald and Gervais. When he isn’t reading development codes, you can find him playing disc golf, homebrewing, or watching a Green Bay Packers game.