Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range, Sisters is a community in transition. When the town is mentioned, most people immediately think Western in flavor and culture, two components that are treasured among the residents. Although aware of the wave of growth that is rapidly approaching, the citizens of Sisters face a challenge: how to intertwine what they hold sacred with the eminent expansion of the region.
“Sisters, like the rest of Central Oregon, will continue to experience unprecedented growth,” says Cheryl Mills, executive director of the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce. “With that growth comes a responsibility to manage the change as opposed to react to it. A cooperative effort among community agencies and the public is Sisters’ plan to manage that growth.”
According to EDCO (Economic Development for Central Oregon), Sisters has grown 81.9 percent between 2000 and 2006. Central Oregon grew an average of 31 residents day which accounted for 20 percent of Oregon’s growth and there is anticipation for more. The population of Sisters is expected to increase to 4,837 residents by the year 2025, a 102.38 percent growth in 15 years.
“The Sisters visioning process will continue to be the forefront of planning for the community,” says Mills. “Since 2005 and for all of 2006 a task force made up of representatives of leading organizations within the community met, conducted surveys and held a series of summits for the public and local agencies to gather information about the community’s desires, along with the future direction of Sisters. The vision statement, a result of that process which as yet to be refined and adopted by the community and leading institutions, will be the guiding document in many of the town’s future endeavors, steering us all in the same general direction.”
The draft version of the vision statement includes desires for preservation of history, a bike and pedestrian friendly environment within a village atmosphere with many public gathering places and venues. It envisions a diversified economy that offers family wage jobs, encompasses the natural environment, promotes tourism year-round, encourages entrepreneurial spirit, cottage and light industry, offers quality education, essential services and enjoys a vibrant arts scene.
Mills sites the Sisters Chamber as having 350 members currently with tourism as the main industry. Largest employers in Sisters are the Sisters School District, Ray’s Food Place, Black Butte Ranch, the Sisters Ranger District and Metabolic Maintenance.
“Business development, recruitment and retention will be a major focus for Sisters in 2007,” she shares. “Ray’s has plans to build a new, larger store behind its current location and Sisters schools will continue to expand to accommodate more residents. Sisters Ranger District is planning to build new facilities with a smaller overall footprint and Black Butte Ranch is currently in the process of upgrading existing facilities and adding new ones.”
As if that weren’t enough, Sisters has two new light industrial business parks that will combine business and living spaces, residential development and commercial enterprise. The city continues to be one of the most desirable places to live and work.
“Central Oregon is rapidly becoming more recognized as a vibrant business community,” says Roger Lee of EDCO. “It will be important to identify and attract businesses that will align with the vision for Sisters’ businesses. The development of the new FivePine Lodge and Conference Center will enhance our ability to market Sisters as a year-round destination and help to even out the seasonality of business. Additionally, the development of forest service property within the city limits has the potential to greatly alter the landscape of our community.”
According to the chamber, a group of concerned and committed citizens and agencies are dedicated to investigating all possible alternatives for directing that development in a manner that is consistent with the desires of the residents of Sisters.“The scarcity of affordable housing and the lowest unemployment rates in 50 years challenge all Central Oregon businesses with finding not only qualified, but any available workers to accommodate a growing number of residents and visitors,” says Mills.
She relates that transportation issues continue to be a subject of discussion, thus far without a concrete solution. “That’s not to say that within the next year or two we will still be a town without a stop light,” Mills says. “In fact, there are indications that there could be two within the foreseeable future. Input from the business community, the public, our visitors and a commitment to action is essential to the solution that best meets Sisters’ needs.”
Aside from praying for a fire-free season, Sisters is a community that is blessed with involved, community-minded individuals and organizations who are more than willing to meet the challenges of growth in a cooperative, supportive and innovative manner.