(Downtown Sisters | Photo by Rob Kerr)
Sisters City Manager Cory Misley compares navigating the twists and turns of the pandemic to a little like being in the “wild, wild West.”
“There was no playbook for what to do in the beginning. Our community had to work together to communicate on how to keep everyone safe and how to support one another and our businesses,” Misley said. “I really appreciate the team effort and how we are building a path together on how to continue to move forward.”
Misley said the Sisters’ community is still in the thick of things with the pandemic and recent wildfires. The upcoming fall and winter seasons bring a host of unknowns.
“We are continuing to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “The city does not employ a public health official, so we have to look to the county and the state for what is safe and what’s not safe for tourists and local residents in the upcoming months and we move more indoors.”
Misley said tourism is the backbone of the economy in Sisters.
“Sisters is still a tourist destination even during a pandemic,” he said. “We are not promoting people to come here to visit but we are seeing local tourists from around Central Oregon as well as other areas. We have been busy but not as busy as we normally are with the annual events held in Sisters.”
Miley said many of the traded-sector companies in Sisters are continuing to do well, despite the pandemic. “We have quite a few traded-sector companies that aren’t connected to tourism and bring jobs and more to our local economy,” he said.
The city took several steps to support local businesses including a 75 percent reduction in business license fees, providing information on state health guidelines, working with other community leaders to provide financial grants and allowing businesses to use city parking spaces for outdoor seating.
“From the get-go, the city took this very seriously and the community took it very seriously,” Misley said. “Everyone did their part so we could reopen. The summer months are the bread and butter for many of our businesses. By working together and staying aware of the situation, we are keeping our locals and tourists safe so they can support the local businesses.”
Sisters Chamber Director Judy Trego said she and her staff are quietly working to support local businesses while also providing information to tourists.
“We have not done as much marketing as we have done in the past,” Trego said. “We are encouraging people from Bend and Redmond to come and visit.”
Trego said $70,000 in grant funds were raised to support small businesses. The chamber also helped businesses acquire necessary personal protection equipment.
“We also provide our businesses with the necessary information they need from the state to operate safely and meet the state’s requirements,” she said.
Resource for Traded-Sector Businesses
Caprielle Foote-Lewis is the Sisters managing director for Economic Development for Central Oregon or EDCO, the regional economic development agency. She works primarily with traded-sector businesses.
“Our focus is on economic development by helping businesses move, start and grow in Sisters and Central Oregon. Given the recent and sudden economic shift, we are also focusing on retention,” Foote-Lewis said.
Her vast network of city, county, state and federal contacts allows her to help connect companies to important resources and provide updated information, especially with the guidelines on how to safely operate a business during the pandemic.
“We provide feedback to public representatives and leaders and advocate for policies that help small businesses in Oregon,” she said.
Almost five years ago, Laird Superfood started in Sisters with three employees. Last year, the company opened a new 20,000 square foot campus with more than 80 employees and this year, the company is breaking ground on its third building.
Foote-Lewis worked with city and county leaders and state government to provide Laird Superfood the resources it needed. She has recently worked with Josette Johnson of Josie’s Best Gluten Free Baking Mixes, Jesse Durham of Sisters Coffee Company and Dan Young of Metabolic Maintenance.
“There is not a cookie-cutter approach to how we assist traded-sector companies,” she said. “Instead, I listen and learn what each company needs to achieve its goals.”
From the time a post office was built in 1888 to the present, the city of Sisters, formally incorporated in 1946, has undergone many transitions from being a supply station for sheep ranchers to being a mill town to a tourist destination with its specialty stores, galleries and lodging destinations.
Last year, community leaders, government officials and businesses began working to diversify Sister’s business portfolio beyond the tourist industry. The goal is to create a vibrant economy with by attracting traded-sector companies. This includes everything from having an available inventory of industrial land to having affordable housing.
Since the start of the pandemic in Oregon, Foote-Lewis said traded-sector companies in Sisters have had an increased focus on learning about e-commerce, developing and deploying online sales and marketing strategies and leaning into the use of technology to increase their market channels and drive new sources of revenue. The pandemic also has caused companies to resourcefully adjust their supply chains as well as creatively redesign public spaces to comply with state health guidelines.
There is no cost for traded-sector businesses to ask her for advice and resources whether it’s evaluating their current business plan, adjusting their targets or goals or learning how they can expand their business. “They just need to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text me at 541-977-5683,” she said.