CSI Innovation Lab Partner Focus: City of John Day

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

Economic Summit “Remarkable” for John Day Innovation Gateway Project


CSI is a big believer in small, rural towns. Why? Again and again we see innovative and pragmatic ideas emerge from small towns across the Northwest that can pave the way for long-lasting economic transformation. Case in point? John Day, Oregon.


City Manager Nick Green recently unveiled his vision to reinvent John Day as an Innovation Gateway.


This ambitious effort started with rethinking infrastructure, including reimagining an old mill site and modernizing and upgrading an aging wastewater treatment plant to produce Class A recycled water. The City envisions attracting farm-to-table growers to utilize this water source along with some 200 acres of city land with greenhouses for hydroponic food production. The local economy will benefit from restoration of a waterfront area, botanical gardens, and a new trails network, resulting in significant job growth and development.


Like many rural areas in the Northwest, and elsewhere, John Day faces challenges like the loss of major employers, a reduced population, aging demographics, and a “brain drain” effect where more educated residents tend to move to more populous cities like Portland and Seattle. But, by embracing innovative ideas, tapping into infrastructure opportunities and developing a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Green sees a whole new future. The Strategy focuses on “an integrated community development, transportation and design plan that will envision and support the revitalization of [a former] mill site and adjacent properties as a dynamic and thriving public space ”. Ultimately, he anticipates that the space will “maximize innovation and efficiency, build partnerships and spur a resilient economy that retains and attracts a range of residents and businesses”.


While John Day received financial support from the State of Oregon and US EDA to support this visionary effort, for cities of this size, it’s often difficult to translate the vision and the plan into reality because of lack of resources and funding. Recognizing this gap, the US Economic Development Agency, created a smart, innovative ‘regional summit’ approach to help small, rural communities move economic development projects forward These summits bring together government and community stakeholders to identify local project financing and resources, establish implementation action plants, and coordinate inter-governmental and cross-sector cooperation.


On June 10—11, CSI worked with EDA and the City of John Day to coordinate and facilitate one of these Regional Economic Development Summits (REDS). In addition to representatives from Federal agencies (USDA Rural Development, US Forest Service, FEMA, Federal Reserve, FHWA) and State agencies (Oregon Fish & Wildlife, Dept. of Environmental Quality, ODOT, Business Oregon), the summit was also attended by academic partners (University of Oregon, OSU, University of Nevada Reno), tribes and nonprofits (Colville Tribe, Willamette Partnerships), local representatives like John Day Mayor, City Councilors, local EDCs, and staff from Oregon’s US Senators’ offices. Governor Kate Brown even dialed in via teleconference to help close out the day’s activities!



There was a guided tour of the relevant site and facilities and Rhys Roth, CSI’s Executive Director, facilitated a number of in-depth conversations. One key highlight was the architecture and urban planning firm, WalkerMACY and economic consulting group, ECONorthwest, who described their next steps to potential collaborator and local partners who attended the REDS event. According to WalkerMACY, the project, when fully realized, will create a thriving tourist destination, attract new investment and jobs, promote a connected and health community through new opportunities for walking and biking, provide public access to the John Day River and Canyon Creek, and support innovation in conservation as well as efficient use of public resources.


Per City Manager, Nick Green, “It was an incredible event, to see so many different agencies and individuals coming together to find ways to help us succeed. To have a group of this caliber working together for one area is truly remarkable. It felt great to have [the] support and I think it will generate some tremendous opportunities in the future.”



CSI sees John Day as a great example of how cities can reinvent their future by embracing innovative possibilities and sharing their vision with important representatives and agencies to help turn these ideas into reality. There’s a lot more to explore in this arena and CSI is so happy to work with such amazing partners.

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