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Looking to the Pacific Rim

A group of German investors has a vision of turning an old Merlin millsite into an industrial campus with international connections

MERLIN ­ From Medford, this tiny community appears to be just northof Grants Pass. To a group of German investors, it's right on the PacificRim.

Or so it seems to Rendata Inc., a partnership of industrialists who boughtthe remains of Miller Redwood ­ 330,000 square feet of buildings on120 acres ­ on a railroad spur, on Interstate 5, on the Pacific Rim.

The company has visions of adding more buildings to an industrial campusthat would eventually employ 800 people, said Robin Hudson, Rendata businessmanager. Rendata is a development company that plans to lease industrialspace to a variety of businesses.

Rendata has invested several million dollars in the projectthus far, rehabilitating the buildings and installing a fire protectionsystem.

I saw the potential for this property, said Ewald Dienhart,president of Rendata USA, based in Palm Beach, Fla. Rendata, he explained,has specialized in developing office buildings, industrial parks and warehousesin Europe.

The other partner is Walter Ebert, who has extensive experience buildingin East Germany and Russia.

This is the first time we've been in the West, said PatrickEngel, Dienhart's son-in-law and a former journalist in Munich. Wefeel this is the right time for the American market.

We're looking at the raw material around here. Why should we beshipping wood to China to build and ship it back? Why not do it here likethey do with those Honda cars?

The demand for sites is splashing out of the Willamette Valley.

If you ask anybody, they'll say Portland is either full or it'stoo expensive, he said. Where are you going to find an industrialsite like this?

While Merlin is the key to the Pacific Rim for the Germans, a numberof Merlin residents see Rendata as a key to reviving a community punishedby the decline of the timber industry.

I made my first trip to Merlin in 1948, said Doug Beck, amember of the Merlin-North Valley Improvement Association. There werewigwam burners from one end of the valley to the other. This place was reallycooking.

The Rendata site has been home to industry for at least half a century.Bates Plywood closed about 1980; Miller Redwood stepped in and operateda mill with up to 350 employees until 1993. It was one of eight mill sitesrehabilitated for economic development under a $340,000 federal grant. Thatcash also resolved problems with asbestos insulation.

Beck says the community needs to diversify to generate the tax base soit can afford things it enjoyed during the boom years for timber.

Merlin is one of four rural communities in the state identified by the1995 Legislature as a test market for rural redevelopment. A $250,000 grantis financing land-use studies as part of a regional problem-solving program.

Water has been pumped into the community from Grants Pass as part ofthe development of North Valley Industrial Park. Beck said a transportationconsultant has said the roads are adequate to serve projected needs.

Our big issues are water runoff and a sewage system, he said.The Romans had sewage systems 2,000 years ago. We're still playingcatch-up.

The solution appears to be an urban growth boundary surrounding Rendata,the Merlin townsite, Josephine County Airport, Paradise Guest Ranch, NorthValley Industrial Park and the I-5 rest area.

The boundary would contain development in a manageable area and the landoutside would be protected for rural use, explained Al Koski, the economicdevelopment director for Josephine County.

That would be the best of both worlds, said Al Koski. Theno-growthers would have their cake too.

Rendata has attracted a number of potential tenants, the developers say.

Most of our interest has been from the Far East, Hudson said.We've been looking for industrial warehousing and storage businesses,but it's the manufacturers who are out kicking the tires.

Tenants so far include:

J&R Reduction and Recycling is developing a regional tire recyclingbusiness to employ 15 to 25 people.

Top Veneer & Trade, a Taiwan-based hardwood veneer company, plansto start operating with about 15 people in October. At full production,55 people will be working there, said David Fairbairn, managing director.

An engineering company with potential employment for 130 is consideringa lease.

Rendata has applied to include the site in an addition to neighboringJackson County's foreign trade zone, adding advantages for importers andexporters.

The partners were led into the development in search of something elseentirely.

They found themselves with a gold mine in a business deal,Hudson said. They were looking for a place to process the ore andasked about buying a corner of the site. The Miller Redwood people didn'twant to sell off parts. They came up with a price and Rendata bought itall.

They are setting up a production line to convert the ore from their MountReuben mine into concentrate that can be shipped to a smelter. It shouldbe in operation within 60 days, Hudson said.

About 40 people are working to spruce up the buildings, painting andadding skylights.

It's not going to look like Miller Redwood much longer, hesaid ­ with one exception. Rendata plans to keep the mill's old wigwamburner as a landmark, possibly with a restaurant and museum inside.

Hudson says the developers are concerned about preserving the naturalbeauty of the site and the herds of deer and flocks of geese that have therun of the site.

They also will have to deal with some lingering environmental concerns,including hydrocarbon residue in the remains of the log ponds, he added.

Hudson says their effort is drawing support from local agencies.

SO-REDI is doing a marvelous job, as far as I'm concerned,he said. We have real cooperation with Rogue Community College. They'resetting up programs to train people for 30, 60, 90 days.

Rendata also owns 90 acres of residential property adjacent to the milland has plans to develop rural homesites.

But the big thing to Hudson, a Grants Pass High School graduate, is thejobs the industrial development promises.

Every single school here is full of kids, he said. Whathappens to them when they graduate? I'd like to see the kind of developmentthat would provide good jobs without changing the rural nature of the area.

Dan Sinclair of Grants Pass uses a cutting torch to remove a storage tank at the Miller Redwood site in Merlin where Rendata Inc. is creating an industrial park. The grounds include 330,000 square feet of buildings. The park would eventually employ 800 people. - Photo by Jim Craven</P