Taking Issue with Gloomy Economic Predictions

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med_Pamelas_Mug_copy55The evidence of economic recovery is indisputable and we will do everything possible to make sure that Central Oregon capitalizes on opportunities as they unfold in this new state of the business cycle. ~ Roger Lee, Economic Development for Central Oregon

Delore Zimmerman, consultant to the Deschutes Economic Alliance and principal with Praxis Group, recently presented to a group of local business people ‘The 1,000-Day Roadmap to Economic Vibrancy for Deschutes County.’

Zimmerman stated that, “few places hold more potential in the decentralized, globally networked economy than Oregon’s Deschutes County. Yet today the county suffers near Depression level unemployment. The county’s boom economy of the 2000s is now mired in a three-year downward spiral – the result of the onset of the national recession and the collapse of the housing market and construction industry.

“The key problem for the County has been its overdependence on an economy based on speculation and second homes. This has proven to be of limited stability and cannot constitute the basis for the area’s long-term economic health.”

Nothing stated there that we didn’t already know, but perhaps worth reiterating considering the challenges we have faced in Central Oregon.

The 1,000 Day Roadmap (funded for about $28,000 by local and private funds) is slated, as Dr. Bill Watkins states below, to help Central Oregon find a new path to prosperity.  Watkins’ forecast suggests economic prospects for our region are distressingly dismal and therefore his organization worked with The Praxis Group to develop a new path.

A new path? This concept purveys a whole vein of questions. Was the forecast itself a little more negative than it could have been in order to validate the need for the 1,000 Day Roadmap? If we need a completely new path, where does that place Economic Development of Central Oregon, which has in place a strategic economic plan for the region and has helped create hundreds of new jobs and several venture capital opportunities?

The Deschutes Economic Alliance had the best interest of the community at heart when it was formed last year to ‘identify a slate of initiatives that would re-energize the community and create a dynamic, growing region that would not be subject to the wild swings that have characterized the regional economy in the past.’ The 1,000 Day Roadmap developed by Zimmerman is the onset of that goal.

The next step, according to the DEA, is to gather numerous volunteers together to refine each of the suggested recommendations that include:

 
 creating a task force to assess the feasibility of developing a systems-built housing industry for the “green” market,
 start a company comprised of product developers, marketing and business experts who will invest their talent in startup and early stage companies with high growth potential in exchange for equity,
 create partnerships with the Warm Springs Tribe to develop mutually beneficial business opportunities,
 develop a university, applied research and creative activities center,
 create an international business sales  acceleration program to increase exports and to increase the number of companies that export,
 create an innovation fund to assist social and commercial enterprises to convert ideas and know-how into products, processes or services that leverage the county’s natural amenities and lifestyle assets,
 develop a long-range energy and cleantech systems plan for the county that creates high quality jobs and export earnings, improves the quality of life and reduces dependence on imported energy,
 create a leadership roundtable, foster a more business-friendly county by eliminating onerous DURT (delay, uncertainty, regulation, taxes)
 and finally convene a Deschutes Economic Alliance Action Summit.

We don’t have a problem with gathering together local business and community members to brainstorm on ideas to improve our economy, in fact we encourage it.

 
However their action plans and ultimate recommendations cannot be implemented with just volunteers; it takes economic development staff and funding to ensure an ongoing systematically implemented strategy.

 
Yes, good intentioned volunteers can attend numerous meetings and come up with laudable concepts, but who is going to implement them? If we want a long-range energy and cleantech plan, who is going to actually create the jobs and find the countries to export to?

And should we duplicate our efforts? Many of the recommendations are included in EDCO’s strategic plan and, in fact, many are in the works (i.e. working with the Warm Springs Tribe, creating a company comprised of product developers, marketing and business experts who will invest their talent in startup and early stage companies and developing a university, applied research center).

 
Although not particularly inspired by the 1,000 Day Roadmap, we have been provided with pertinent recommendations that we should acknowledge and perhaps find a way to pursue if we deem them worthy of pursuit.  If we’re going to expand/enhance/implement any of the ideas then it needs professional economic development staff that we are already funding in this region.

 
Has our community, as Watkins implies, just been sitting around waiting for the recession to get over? We think not.

At the recent unveiling of the 1,000 Day Roadmap, EDCO’s Executive Director Roger Lee and Venture Catalyst Manager Scott Larson gave a brief presentation on the successes of some of EDCO’s efforts including the Bend Venture Capital conference, developing a new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle testing area, siting Facebook in Prineville and assisting GL Solutions with a new facility, all job creating efforts. At least a dozen local companies are in the process of doubling their employees (G5 Search Marketing, 70 new jobs, GL Solutions, 40, PV Powered, 60, MediSISS, 60 and Nashelle Jewelry, 20).

With 35 board members elected from around the region and over 50 advisory board members EDCO has been the champion of economic development in this region for thirty years. They have had numerous successes and have been diligent in adding staff around the region to assist local entities with their economic development. This is not to say that they should not be subject to suggestions for expanding or enhancing their work. If there is a criticism it might be said they haven’t bragged enough.

 
In our view a collaboration of current organizations should convene (EDCO, COIC, DEA, Visit Bend and local municipalities) and determine what steps to take and how to pursue valid recommendations – operating under a vein of convincing collaboration. Volunteers can participate, but it has to be backed by people who actually do economic development…..and it should be clear that no more money should be spent to review the possibilities. pha

Editors Note: Although Dr. Watkins mentioned a decade of lost jobs in Central Oregon, Oregon Regional Economist Carolyn Eagan provided these figures: In 2000, the three counties in Central Oregon had 65,600 jobs.  In 2009, the three counties had 73,220 jobs.  This is an 11.6 percent increase in the total number of jobs in the region.  In 2009, the region returned to about 2004-05 levels. 
 

 

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