From Ideas to Action: Strategic Doing in Yamhill County

By Bob Parker

Yamhill County is in the heart of Oregon’s wine country. Major industries include agriculture, forest products, manufacturing, and education. In terms of agricultural production, Yamhill County ranks seventh out of Oregon’s thirty-six counties. Yamhill County is a major player in Oregon’s wine industry.

In 2012, a group of community shareholders worked to prepare the “Grow Yamhill County” economic development strategy.  The mission Grow Yamhill County is:

“Directing and prioritizing action and investment to promote business growth, job creation & retention, and enhanced well-being for the residents and communities of Yamhill County, Oregon.”

In fall 2016, community leaders came together to reassess the Grow Yamhill County economic development strategy and to craft a path forward.  With assistance from Resource Development Initiatives, the group organized the Yamhill County Economic Vitality Summit which has held in November 2016. The November EV Summit was attended by nearly 100 people.  The group discussed what they wanted to keep from the 2012 plan, what they had done, and what they wanted to leave behind.

The afternoon session was organized by the CSC team.  Last year we became intrigued with a process called “Strategic Doing” developed by the Agile Strategies Lab at Purdue University. Strategic Doing is a process to manage complex collaborations where no individual can tell others what to do.  In our view, that describes any community with an economic development strategy. By definition, economic development is an activity shared across multiple organizations.  The trick to success is to get all the partners to agree on a direction, and more specific, on what to do first, what to do second, etc.

Participants of the November EV Summit were enthusiastic about the Strategic Doing process and agreed that they would come back if the partners organized another summit. That summit was held on February 1, 2017 at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville. The facility is home of the Howard Hughes famous “Spruce Goose.”

About 80 individuals representing a range of private and public sector entities attended the second Economic Vitality Summit. The summit was organized around the five topic areas of the Grow Yamhill County economic development strategy:

  • Transportation
  • Infrastructure
  • Land availability
  • Housing
  • Workforce

The Summit began with an welcome from Yamhill County Commissioner Stan Primozich. Representatives from various organizations brought the group up to date on recent activities related to the five strategy areas.

Bob Parker from the Community Service Center the provided an overview of the Strategic Doing process and the group got to work.  We had nine tables focused on five topics framed around five questions. We developed the questions with input from local representatives and Scott Hutcheson from the Agile Strategies Lab.

Transportation: What would it look like if Yamhill County had a balanced transportation system that provided options that served all residents and businesses?

Workforce: What if Yamhill County had clear talent pathways stretching from primary school all the way to jobs of today and tomorrow. How might life be different for our people, for our employers?

Infrastructure: Imagine that Yamhill County has successfully pioneered a new approach to the planning and implementation of infrastructure projects, one that responsively meets today’s needs and anticipates those of tomorrow. What would that look like? 

Land Availability: What would it look like if anyone who wanted to start, expand, or bring a new business into Yamhill County was able to get concierge-like service to help them navigate their land-related needs.

Housing: Imagine Yamhill County with housing choices to accommodate the needs and circumstances of every resident, aligned with the unique needs of surrounding community and helping to support the regional economy. What would that look like?

The group had vigorous and deep conversations around these topics. At the end of the Summit, all nine groups had identified pathfinder projects and had made commitments to action.  Projects ranged from the “Jobs Bus” aimed at linking high school students to area businesses, to a strategy to develop a regional trail system, to exploring approaches to create a more resilient transportation system.  In short, the day was a success.

Now we move to the difficult task of turning those ideas into action.  CSC will continue to support Yamhill County in the coming months to get work done and to build new narratives in the community.

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