Astoria could surely learn from tiny Toledo, 140 miles down the Oregon Coast.
Astoria is a town steeped in history, with a rich heritage of fishing and logging, and a new embrace of tourism based on its scenic rivershore location.
And Toledo ... well, it’s just about the same, only less than half the size.
Just 7 miles inland from the bustling port and tourism town of Newport, Toledo is providing a perfect example of how a community can reinvent itself.
And Astoria could learn much from it, as our reporter Edward Stratton discovered when he researched our news story about Toledo’s recent maritime industry turnaround.
Toledo — population 3,627 — has long been a railroad stop, in large part because of its sawmill operations. It has been a center for dairy farming and for boatbuilding.
Even though it sits in the shadow cast by the much bigger Newport, it offers a charming place for coastal visitors to take a small twisty detour inland and make discoveries.
Waterfowl are much in evidence because of the scenic Yaquina River, which visitors report is excellent for cutthroat trout and the occasional Chinook salmon. Just like Astoria, art galleries display locally created pictures and ceramics and there are places to eat that offer local seafood and produce.
Thanks to vision and energy, Toledo is reinventing itself economically through invigorated use of its boatyard to service the central coast fishing fleet.
More than a decade ago, a private owner shut down his Toledo boatyard to focus on his other location in Reedsport. Instead of sitting back and lamenting the loss, innovative individuals saw a community asset on the Yaquina River that could come under public ownership.
They acted — and revitalized the town.
Assisted by state financing and grants, the boatyard reopened in 2011 as a publicly run operation, and sandblasting, painting and welding crews were soon hard at work on local vessels. As is common with most successful operations, the Port of Toledo embraced the idea of a public-private partnership and invited independent contractors to use the facility, too. That brought in revenue while keeping the waterfront bustling with a growing workforce.
Of course there was some lucky timing involved. But the port would have been kept busy even without the research vessels from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Oregon State University that located in Newport.
Astoria could learn much from this model. It’s not that our Port needs to copy Toledo in exact detail, so much as become similarly energized. It needs leaders to think creatively about doable projects on the waterfront that tap into available financial support systems offered by the state.
Having a working waterfront isn’t just a nostalgic goal so artists can paint or photograph it and longtime residents can feel good that their children have job options to keep them in town. The North Coast economy has diversified in the past two decades, but a significant portion can still genuinely reflect our maritime heritage.
To obtain more state support for its operations, the Port of Astoria must finish and present a strategic plan. That’s a reasonable ask from state leaders concerned that their limited dollars are well spent.
As Stratton has reported, this plan comes after our Port’s early exit from the industrial docks at North Tongue Point, which some observers saw as our community’s best option for a boatyard similar to Toledo’s. Now boatbuilder Hyak Maritime is pressing ahead with its own project there while improving the infrastructure.
Other waterfront controversies over the past few years have held the Port back, not least doing so much to accommodate the returning log vessels that other, less volatile, businesses have been hurt. The absurd but perhaps inevitable tariff war with China and the uncertainty it casts on continuing log exports is more evidence not to base future economic hopes on this one precarious area.
Overall, as the Port seeks new leadership following the departure of its executive director, it has its best chance to pick up the pieces. Let’s look at Toledo and “borrow” the best ideas. Let’s look elsewhere at other innovative success stories and emulate them.
If nothing else, let’s observe and embrace Toledo’s evident contention that when something potentially negative happens in any community it can be an opportunity, not a disaster.