In a letter dated February 9, 2021 the Yamhill County Tourism Partnership informed the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners they would be ceasing the coalition of seven Yamhill County communities and industries working to elevate economic development throughout the county.

The decision to dissolve came just days after the February 4 Board of Commissioners meeting where Commissioner Berschauer led an attack against County staffers alleging they’d acted fraudulently and without proper authority despite acting on behalf of her predecessor and current colleagues.

Former Commissioner Rick Olsen had championed re-forming the organization into an economic advisory committee which would have allow the YCTP to participate on important issues within the Willamette Valley Visitors Association. Support from the Board of Commissioners became unanimous in December when Commissioner Starrett indicated the time had come to move forward with re-forming YCTP into an advisory committee after previously showing now interest in doing so. Newly seated Commissioner Berschauer opposed the effort and has ignored repeated attempts from the organization to engage with her as the Boards representative for economic development. Starrett’s support for the YCTP has mysteriously reverted and she now sees no reason for this advisory committee.

Jeff Knapp, Executive Director of Visit McMinnville and former YCTP ED sees a disconnect in how Yamhill County views economic development. “In the last two decades the Oregon Wine Industry has grown to a $7 billion a year industry. Yamhill County holds the lion’s share of Oregon’s Wine assets. The majority of growth in Yamhill County’s Agriculture and Manufacturing is now centered around the OR Wine Industry. A large portion of the Wine Industry depends on Direct to Consumer sales or the “Visitor Economy.” My hope is that we start making decisions based on data, opportunity, and possibility — not out of fear. We need to make certain that there are voices around the table from both parties looking for ways to help craft the Yamhill County that works for EVERYONE.”

As the fourth largest economic driver in Yamhill County, the visitor economy is responsible for more than $120 million in visitor spending alone. Knapp adds “Yamhill County’s partnership with SEDCOR focuses on Economic Development, but does not include the Visitor Economy in their work.” Leaving a significant hole in the strategic growth of Yamhill County, considered the crown jewel of Oregon’s $7.2 billion dollar wine industry.

The individual Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) will continue to work independently to promote tourism in the area, but this leaves smaller communities left to fend for themselves.

The letter in its entirety:

February 9th, 2021

To the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners,

The Yamhill County Tourism Partnership (YCTP) is informing you of its official dissolution following the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners meeting on January 14th, 2021.

The members of YCTP, representing seven Yamhill County communities and industries vital to the economic success of our region, are extremely disappointed in the decision made by Commissioners not to honor the intentions of the previous Board to name YCTP an official County economic advisory committee. Thousands of hours have gone into this effort, multiple grants totaling $80,000 have been earned and spent to better our County, and many stakeholder-driven projects have been completed. Yet, after years of encouragement and support from the Board of Commissioners, it is apparent to YCTP that Board support has come to an end.

The visitor economy is the fourth largest producer of economic impact in Yamhill County, and includes lodging, transportation, recreation, food service, and entertainment. This industry represents nearly 2,000 living-wage jobs in our County and results in over $120 million annually in direct visitor spending. Yet currently there is no County-level focus on it and no voices representing it in economic development conversations.

The Yamhill County Tourism Partnership represented the needs of diverse stakeholders in the County whose small businesses and livelihoods depend on County-wide cooperation to develop our destination with projects that not only draw visitors but serve locals as well. The YCTP has never been interested in or recommended a County-wide lodging tax, yet the current Board continues to question or repeat a concern that a tax is what the group is after. It is not. This type of misinformation, after this and many other supporting facts have been repeated to the Board verbally, in presentations, and via handouts, is disappointing. Several emails to inform and engage Commissioner Berschauer, the representative for economic development on the Board, have gone completely ignored. Commissioner Starrett’s support at the December 2020 meeting, as signaled by her thumbs up, to move the process forward to formation and approval of bylaws shifted once Commissioner Berschauer took office the following month.

Yamhill County’s respected wine industry drives much of the economic development in our county, connecting our county’s agricultural heritage with a product that people around the world travel to experience. Yamhill County dominates all other Oregon counties in wine economy assets, which result in over $15 million in property taxes, $132 million in wages, 4,497 related jobs and 2,261 indirect/induced jobs. The wine industry creates $687 million in wine related revenue in Yamhill County. This industry is growing, and will continue to grow even if Yamhill County does nothing to support it. If Yamhill County banded together to support the development of our region with smart, data-driven, and stakeholder-led projects, the benefits to our area could soar. Yet the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners repeatedly chooses not to see the connection between the visitor economy and its direct connection to supporting a vital agricultural industry. Wine production/manufacturing has experienced 300% growth (the largest manufacturing growth in Yamhill County) and has added 1,000+ jobs in our County in the last 20 years. A vital part of that growth comes from the direct-to-consumer sales that wineries get from visitors.

The results of this decision from the Board will not devastate the County; however, it will mean that the communities large enough to support destination management organizations (DMOs) will continue to benefit, and smaller communities in Yamhill County will lose out. Dollars and resources readily available through the Oregon state tourism structure will flow to other counties without an organization in place to seek out and leverage them. Communication of opportunities that connect disparate groups to create widespread beneficial changes that will better the lives of Yamhill County residents will cease.

As its closing act, the Yamhill County Tourism Partnership recommends that the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners strive to create a place at the economic development table for the visitor economy and focus efforts on the pillars that create the vitality of this industry: outdoor recreation infrastructure, arts & culture resources, and encouragement of direct to consumer sales of goods from small farms and wineries through agritourism.

Development projects that serve both the economic and physical/mental health of the community are efforts that we believe the County should be supporting. More concerns arise as evidenced by the current lack of support and politicizing of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail by two of three current Commissioners. It further draws attention to fact that the visitor economy carries little to no weight or importance in the eyes of our county leadership, regardless of the voices of small businesses and community members that they serve.

The members of the Yamhill County Tourism Partnership are proud of their accomplishments and efforts to improve the quality of life for our citizens through the development of the visitor economy, and sincerely hope that someday there is equitable room at the table for these discussions again.