Damon Runberg, regional economist with Oregon Employment Department, recently detailed the landscape and employment trends within the statistical definition of the Greater Sunriver Area that is classified as Bend 97707 and La Pine/Northern Klamath County or 97739 zip codes. South County is also known as Newberry Country due to its proximity to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
Runberg pointed out that the Sunriver/Three Rivers South and La Pine areas combine to form a local hub of core competencies which complement each community. “South County enjoyed some impressive job growth over the past five years despite the fact that many residents commute to find work in other parts of Deschutes County,” Damon said. “The region added nearly 400 new jobs since 2010, growth of 13 percent. The rate of growth was quite a bit slower than the county during that period (+22 percent) with much of the countywide job growth concentrated in Bend and Redmond. Despite the slower pace of job growth, adding 13 percent to the local job base over the past five years is impressive when compared with the average rural community.
“Industry employment is largely dominated by tourism related businesses, however we are beginning to see La Pine emerge as a centralized hub for the southern portion of Deschutes County and the northern portions of Lake and Klamath Counties. There has been considerable growth in retail, health care, and construction. South County is seeing some exciting changes. The region is growing thanks to its quality of life and a slower pace of life.”
“Sunriver, Three Rivers South and La Pine are poised for growth! Perhaps now more than ever South County is in a position to grow. Infrastructure is solid and growing, the community united around growth, available property in our 330 acre business park, enterprise zone benefits, great changes/expansion on the Hwy 97 corridor. All that combined with Low business start-up costs and it spells economic vitality. South county is poised and ready, ” according to Steve Parnell, the EDCO Sunriver-La Pine area director. Parnell works with Economic Development of Central Oregon (EDCO), Sunriver-LaPine Economic Development Advisory Board (SLED) to jumpstart projects and businesses throughout South Deschutes County or Newberry Country.
Both Parnell and Runberg echoed that South County will see much more growth in population, housing and in its workforce and employers as this area features the most affordable existing housing including rentals without city permitting constraints as well as the most affordable land, lower permitting costs to build for developers in addition to the infrastructure and economic incentives through Enterprise Zones to move, start or grow businesses and housing projects.
La Pine City Manager Cory Misley points out additional assets, “South Deschutes County offers an abundance of land zoned for commercial and industrial uses, whether in the City of La Pine or the Sunriver Business Park. With shovel-ready lots ranging from a half-acre to 40 acres, the La Pine Industrial Park is poised for development with soft soils and all infrastructure curbside (water, sewer, power). A short drive from Bend and the Redmond Airport, South Deschutes County is where business opportunity calls home.”
Misley is one of the youngest city managers on record and is responsible for putting a fresh face on La Pine alongside his predecessor, Rick Allen.
This South Deschutes County trend — to be able to build and develop residential, office, commercial and industrial projects more affordably and readily now–bodes well when the City of Bend is expected to rifle through confusing layers of executing its newly approved comprehensive plan expanding the Urban Growth Boundary while dealing with city sewer and road infrastructure and improvements needed to make use of developable land. Should the City pass on these cost improvements to builders and developers, they in turn, cannot provide affordable housing, multifamily or commercial structures profitably when absorbing exorbitant system development charges along with a scarcity of available, developable land now.
According to Kent Elliott, Executive Director of the Sunriver Area Chamber of Commerce, “I think it is clear that South Deschutes County will be the new growth area. While the vast amount of full-time residents live here for the quality of life, the area offers excellent land and affordable housing, room for business growth, great schools and a stable work force. In addition, the area is open and welcoming to new businesses and residents.”
When asked for details, Elliott said, “Within the past year, with the opening of Camp Abbott Trading Company opening (Ace Hardware in Sunriver), we count at least 12 new businesses and 30 some new jobs.”
These new businesses include Camp Abbott Trading Co. (Ace Hardware in Sunriver) and Sunriver Fitness & Aquatics (Formerly Mavericks) – both grand openings will happen later this year as well as Windermere Real Estate, La Pine Community Health Center, Prairie House Assisted Living Center, Sunriver Virtual Reality, Obsidian Inspections, Live Laugh Love Art, Cohen’s Stacked Bistro, Nobility Fitness and Mousetrap Strategies and IPhone Doctor.
The most notable joint South County community project is Rural Tourism Studio in conjunction with Travel Oregon and COVA along with the La Pine and Sunriver Chambers of Commerces and communities to build the Newberry Country Trail linking the seven sister communities of Sunriver, Gilchrist, Crescent with help of Summer Lake, Fort Rock, Christmas Valley and Silver Lake to comprise a boot-shaped area. Ann Gawith, executive director of the La Pine Chamber of Commerce along with Teri Myers will work with Elliott to build economic development and inter-community projects with businesses to make the “heads in beds (lodging), meals and tourist attractions customer ready throughout these areas.”
All businesses, residents and organizations are invited to participate in sponsorships or volunteer work in this economic stimulus project to build our Central Oregon legacy of working in harmony with nature and its stewardship.