Across Hermiston and the surrounding community, dozens of businesses run 24 hours a day and hundreds of workers clock on at all hours of the day and night.

Hermiston’s range of industry encompasses a full spectrum — from raw food processing to manufacturing to shipping. Just outside of Hermiston, Union Pacific Railroad’s Hinkle Locomotive Service and Repair Facility, for example, runs 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. On the clock, 600 employees keep trains running through Umatilla County’s 98 miles of rail — the most rail track in any county in Oregon.

“We’re one of the only places that has rail running north, south, east and west,” John Kerwin said. “Umatilla County is strategically located.”

Designed to serve the repair needs of Union Pacific’s locomotives from the entire Pacific Northwest corridor, the Hinkle facility continues its industrial work on miles of track outside where trains haul coal, imports, vehicles, chemicals, lumber and perishable goods. So far in 2010, Hinkle workers have processed almost 263,000 rail cars.

For materials that prefer the road to the rail, products processed through the Hermiston Walmart Distribution Center are distributed to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and western Montana by a network of 300 truck drivers. Inside the facility, 900 employees work all hours to keep thousands of boxes zipping through an intricate system of conveyor belts and barcode scanners, storage and delivery.

Although materials processed and shipped by Union Pacific and Walmart typically come from out of the area, other local industries use products grown and created in Umatilla County, such as Hermiston Foods, which processes vegetables from local farmers, and The Collins Companies Upper Columbia Mill, which transforms trees from the 24,000 acre GreenWood Tree Farm into lumber planks, wood chips and biofuel.

All of the lumber — graded on site by local workers for quality — will go to independent manufacturers to become window sills, furniture, picture frames and pallets.

“From an end-user point of view, most customers are looking for predictable appearance and cost,” The Collins Companies representative Kerry Hart said, pointing out the renewable tree farm is engineered and therefore provides steady quality. “Our wood is always the same. It always has the same look, the same feel, and it’s sustainable. We could provide this for a long time.”

The tree plantation and mills also are prepared for expansion if product need increases, Hart said. Workers at GreenWood Tree Farm are only cutting the trees at a rate of 50 percent of the sustainable maximum.

“They could cut double what they are now, but I think we’re all struggling with the same economic issues as the rest of the country,” he said.

As businesses continue to adapt to the nation’s economic fluctuations, local officials continue to bring industries into Umatilla County.

Most of those businesses have been and will be brought to the area through economic development incentives, as well as the lure of easy transportation, according to Chet Prior, longtime area businessman and president of the Hermiston Development Corporation. For local officials, Prior said the key to enticing industry and business to an area is showing support from the community and allowing officials to tour the schools, health care system and other aspects of a strong community.

“When you get right down to it, things haven’t changed that much,” Prior said. “It’s the personal connections and local support that brings in business.”

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