Kelley Atherton, The Triplicate

Portlander to focus

on area development

After several months of interviews, the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority has found its new director in Bill Renfroe.

Coming from Portland, Ore., Renfroe's first week on the job has been a

whirlwind of meeting the movers and shakers of Del Norte County and

learning a lot of background.

Just last August, the economic development board made up of city, county and harbor elected officials hired Jim Grossman, another Portland resident, as director, only to have him resign in October for personal reasons.

Now, board members hope Renfroe will be a catalyst for moving forward.

After getting degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Renfroe spent about 25 years in the "environmental arena."

He has worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Portland office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, also in Portland; and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

In the private sector, Renfroe was most recently senior client services manager for Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, an engineering consultant firm that did some work on the local wastewater treatment plant.

He was also the health and safety manager for WaferTech, a computer chip manufacturer and its $1.2 billion semi-conductor plant in Camas, Wash.

Renfroe said he was "honored" that the board was willing to bring an outsider into the economics of Del Norte. The benefit of being an outsider, he said, is exactly that: looking at the situation from the outside.

"Sometimes it's hard to see the picture when you're inside the frame," Renfroe said.

There are opportunities that may not be obvious to local residents, he said.

What he said has noticed in his first few days is that things are "on the cusp" of happening.

"What I'm seeing is a huge amount of energy," Renfroe said. "No negative, just really positive."

The Tri-Agency board has passed along a list of projects in place for Renfroe to work on. These include basic infrastructure issues that Del Norte has been dealing with for years: the U.S. Highway 199/197 truck route, the wastewater treatment plant construction, a new terminal at the airport, dredging the harbor and improving broadband Internet.

Also on the list are the ideas of establishing an industrial park at the airport and a beef processing plant in the county, as well as researching retail leakage to Oregon.

"I'm going to take those things and run with them," Renfroe said, adding that he has been brainstorming other ideas as well.

Tri-Agency Chairman David Finigan, who is also chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said that basic infrastructure is the "foundation of economic development."

But another part of Renfroe's job description is building up the business community.

"Business development and retention go alongside it,' Finigan said. "We can parallel both those tracks."

Mike Sullivan, a Tri-Agency commissioner and county supervisor, said Renfroe's job will be to focus on economic development "24/7."

"He understands about meeting deadlines and is results-driven," Sullivan said. "That's what we want and what the community wants."

Mayor Kelly Schellong, who is also a Tri-Agency commissioner, said that Renfroe's background and references were a major selling point.

"Everyone who has worked with him had nothing but positive things to say about him," she said.

Sullivan said Renfroe could help implement the kind of change Del Norters are hungry for. With the economy the way it is, this is a especially good time for it, he added.

"Adversity brings opportunities," he said, "This is one of the best times to reinvent yourself ... If it needs to be drastic change, let's make it."