Thursday, October 16, 2008

Economic development in Sisters? What’s that?

As we watch the surreal spectacle of a “conservative” Bush Administration preside over the socialization of the nation’s financial institutions, Sisters has its own economic questions to wrestle with.

Economic development has become the centerpiece of the City Council election.

“Economic development” is one of those mom-and-apple-pie things: Nobody is against it. Everybody wants family-wage jobs and clean industry that is compatible with Sisters’ quality of life. The tricky part is how you get them.

The Chamber of Commerce and the City look at each other like a pair of outfielders who are waiting for there other to call the pop fly: “You got it!” “No, you got it!”

The current pop fly is the idea of creating an economic development director position. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. What would such a person do? We have two business parks ready for development; it seems to me that the developers themselves are best placed to try to attract clients.

What could a quasi-governmental economic development director do that the private developers can’t do better?

The fact that the two business parks remain empty testifies to the challenges Sisters faces in attracting family-wage jobs and clean, compatible industry. Land costs are comparatively high. Sisters is off the beaten path for quick transportation. Redmond has an enterprise zone. There is a lack of workforce housing.

And, right now, the national economy is working against us.

The City could do more to attract business — reducing development fees, offering tax incentives. But actions like that are not as simple as they seem. Reducing SDCs would require a charter amendment and would reduce the city’s ability to offset the impacts of development. Tax breaks don’t always translate into successful business locations.

Sisters does need to get all its agencies and interest groups on the same page regarding economic development, but we should not fool ourselves. There is not easy formula for getting what we say we want here and even if we all agree, it may not be possible.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Jim -
    You give the industrial park developers too much credit if you think that in addition to being developers, they can also market their property. Most of these guys think marketing consists of putting a sign on the property.

    Yes we do need an Economic Development position who will proactively go out to the type of businesses we want here and pitch Sisters. There are plenty of small businesses in LA, SF, Portland & Seattle who would and could move their business here if they knew about us and that we would welcome them.

    Quality of life is important to many of them and we have sufficient transportation services for most of these type of businesses. The tax dollars generated from their relocating here would offset the cost of the position. We need to be proactive - especially in these economic times. The current City Council shows no interest or ability to get this done - time for "Change we can believe in"!

  2. I have a quick question regarding comments made at the candidates forum. As a relative newcomer to this area I am wondering what the "lost opportunities" were that were hinted at during the forums discussion of economic development?
    I thought the forum was informative, well run and well attended! I did not see much difference from one person to the next in the answers that were given, so I assume this election will be won or lost on a personal preference or on the basis of personality.
    I would like to see the Nugget address the larger issues before us on the ballot as there are a lot if measures this year. There are a plethora of hidden repercussions to our way of life here in Oregon & it seems we are so focused on the Presidential election that these measures could slip into laws without a thorough
    examination by the voters. Here in Sisters we have been quite vocal about keeping the local option to fund our schools, but having just read the voters pamphlet, I see many measures that would deeply affect our school funding by depleting the state coffers.
    Let's get a bigger vision going before we sit down to decide our vote. Let's get the conversation going about what these measures mean & the many ways they could affect us, our children, our neighbors, & our state.

  3. You Said: The Chamber of Commerce and the City look at each other like a pair of outfielders who are waiting for there other to call the pop fly: “You got it!” “No, you got it!

    Sorry to correct you but I think they are saying ... "I don't Want it, you take it." The problem is that this has happened for the last seven innings and no one seems to be willing to coach the outfielders.

    Hiring a part time economic development director position on the books at the chamber or city would be a poor use of tax dollars. The Chamber can't afford it and they shouldn't use room tax revenue to fund overhead including and economic development position.

    I agree that getting people to talk about it will go along way. It has been talked about before. Getting all to agree will be difficult, or nearly impossible as you indicate, but worth the effort.

    Maybe the City should withhold the room tax money from the Chamber, take some general fund money and hire a "Downtown Manager and Economical Development Director" in house and take over the role of promoting Sisters Country from the Chamber. The Downtown Manager would promote Economical Development and The Sisters Country.

    Maybe the City should team with EDCO as has Redmond done. Roger Lee and Bud Prince have worked successfully with Redmond's City Council and actually got some things done. Sisters is not Redmond and some of the issues you stated are hurdles but they can be cleared.

    Maybe the City and Chamber should .... Talk.

  4. Since when is it a proper use of my tax dollars to promote "economic development"? Economic development belongs in the private sector and should have nothing to do with local government, despite what local Realtors would have us believe.

    Ross, I heartily disagree with your assertion that Sisters is a viable business location for most manufacturing based businesses that rely on transporting their goods.

    Lack of railroad......check
    Nasty windy two lane highway two hours from anywhere....check
    Deathtrap pass to negotiate in the winter....check
    Record high fuel prices......check

    Sisters is a nice place for people to visit, retire, or work IF they have a viable local business, telecommuting job, trust fund, or work for the gubbmint. I fear attempting to transform Sisters into some hub of economic activity is a pipe dream.

    We face the same economic prospects as almost every other small rural town in America.

    Let's review some history: Sisters is a busted logging town who pulled a rabbit out of its hat with the tourism transformation. Let's not waste taxpayer money trying for something that will NEVER happen.

    You want economic development? Then move to Portland, SF, LA, Seattle. This isn't the place to find your golden nugget (sorry pun intended). You should have found it BEFORE you moved here.