John Day’s Innovation Gateway Plan

John Day’s Innovation Gateway Plan brings Partners together to build a Resilient Community

By Sara O’Brien, Willamette Partnership and Matt Craigie, ECONorthwest


What does a thriving, resilient rural community look like in the 21st century? What can provide the basis of vital rural communities when natural resource industries struggle or fail?

The City of John Day, Oregon, aims to provide an answer to these questions through a new model for economic growth and development. The City is working to revitalize and convert the former Oregon Pine mill site and surrounding properties into a thriving public space along the John Day River, known as the Innovation Gateway. The project will combine river restoration, flood management, economic development, affordable housing, local food, and recreation opportunities. Its proponents want to align the community’s vision and Strategy for Growth, and they share a vision of a future John Day where sufficient housing, jobs, and infrastructure provide the strong foundations of a community that is growing and adapting in the face of broader economic challenges.

On June 10-11, 2019, organizations came together to attend a Regional Economic Diversification Summit (REDS) in John Day, supported in part by the Economic Development Administration (EDA). This summit brought state and federal agencies, NGOs, and private partners to John Day to build the understanding, partnerships, and resources needed to advance the Innovation Gateway Plan. The REDS event included a guided tour and introduction to the Innovation Gateway; a presentation by Matt Craigie, a planner and project manager at ECONorthwest, on the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), followed by discussion; and facilitated conversations and a Financing and Development Workshop centered on the project and finance opportunities by the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure.

“To support the City with their Strategy for Growth,” said Matt Craigie, “ECONorthwest conducted several technical analyses to identify opportunities for economic development.” This included the incubation of a local greenhouse industry, incentivizing new housing development, linking the community to broadband internet, and marketing the community to visitors and potential new residents. ECONorthwest’s work culminated in the creation of a CEDS—a five-year implementation plan. The CEDS and its companion Prospectus, present John Day’s vision for reversing trends of population decline and economic stagnation. “The City has charted a new path towards a prosperous and sustainable future,” Craigie declares.

As part of Willamette Partnership’s EDA grant and Infrastructure NEXT partnership, focused on the Northwest’s critical infrastructure, the Partnership attended the REDS to share expertise in planning and funding the aspects of the plan related to river restoration and smart floodplain management. Through this partnership and grant, the Infra-NEXT team is providing technical assistance to communities actively working through innovative infrastructure investments. The team brings value planning and data visualization assistance tools that can help communities rethink projects, plan smarter, and build capacity. In addition to John Day, the Infra-NEXT team has worked in Stevenson, WA to rethink the community’s wastewater systems. Delivering a value planning workshop and strategic report detailing how to save money by integrating natural and distributed treatment and bring the community together over infrastructure solutions that deliver more community benefits. Check out the latest Infra-NEXT progress-report, here.

ECONorthwest and Willamette Partnership are excited to continue supporting this effort and others that build strong communities, resilient economies, and healthy ecosystems.

Interested in learning more about the John Day efforts? Check out the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure’s blog, news, and John Day’s website.

John Day Innovation Gateway Plan Partners

The summit brought together staff from state and federal agencies, NGOs, and private partners / Photo provided by the City of John Day

Matt Craigie quote on John Day
John Day Oregon Pine Greenhouses

Partners toured the Innovation Gateway Plan project including the previous Oregon Pine Mill site and its greenhouses / Photo provided by the City of John Day

In her role as Executive Director, Sara O'Brien, is Willamette Partnership’s chief strategist, lead conductor, and biggest fan. Under her leadership, Willamette Partnership is helping to build a future in which people build resilient ecosystems, healthy communities, and vibrant economies by investing in nature. Most recently, Sara was Willamette Partnership's Director of Strategy and Business, helping to refine its business strategy and identify opportunities for growth. She previously worked at Defenders of Wildlife, the University of Arizona's Institute of the Environment, and the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia. Sara holds a B.A. in anthropology and linguistics from Grinnell College and an M.S. in natural resource management from the University of Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys relaxing with projects such as managing a farm, building a straw bale house, and raising children.


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