Advisory Board & Business Advocate Push Multiple Initiatives
The City of Bend is using a multi-pronged approach to shift its reputation from being merely “open for business” to “we want your business.”
That was the clear message at a recent Chamber-hosted Town Hall Forum at Bend Golf & Country Club airing the city’s new economic development plan, and introducing Bend Business Advocate Jon Skidmore – who is taking on a lynchpin liaison role between the private sector and local government – to the wider community.
Civic leaders readily admit that in the past the City’s image has suffered by being perceived as unreceptive to business needs, but during the boom years resources were so stretched that a reactive rather than proactive stance was often the norm.
But a sea change has occurred in recent history, especially in light of a new council complexion and under the stewardship of City Manager Eric King. An increased appreciation of what business contributes to the community is being reflected in a concerted effort to pay attention to pressing issues, actively promote job growth and provide an array of tools to help companies thrive within the municipal environs.
The first major step in that direction was taken some 18 months ago with the formation of the Bend Economic Development Advisory Board (BEDAP) made up of a broad cross-section of business leaders with a mission to develop and maintain a strategic plan to ensure that long-term City planning promotes a supportive and innovative business environment.
The overarching aim was to foster economic growth, including facilitating business retention and expansion and marketing Bend as business-friendly, coordinated by the efforts of governmental agencies, community groups and business organizations.
As a major piece of the program, BEDAP successfully petitioned for the creation of the Bend Business Advocate position to engage and connect with the business community, act as a conduit for communication and help craft solutions for streamlining business development processes.
A transplanted east coaster, Skidmore was selected for the role after an extensive applicant screening process and arrives with an impressive track record covering both the public and private sector.
He has been in Oregon over 18 years, having obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon and a masters in urban and regional planning from Portland State University. He has also worked in a variety of positions within the land development industry, both for regulatory agencies and developers, having headed a consulting business and most recently acting as community development director for Jefferson County, where he initiated a number of economic development related projects.
Skidmore, who attended the town hall forum along with BEDAP chair Bill Moseley, CEO of government sector software leaders GL Solutions, and board member EDCO Business Development Manager Eric Strobel said, “There is a recognition within the City that promoting job growth is a huge priority, especially as the local unemployment rate has been somewhat stagnant and hovering around twelve percent.
“One of my main priorities is also to listen to the business community’s concerns and channel to the right people.
“I want to hear feedback on frustrations and work on improving processes – you might see me ruffling some feathers, but the City and BEDAP want me to be something of a troubleshooter and collaborator as part of striving to build a stronger business community.”
Skidmore hailed the creation of a “tool box of incentives” designed to help encourage economic development and job creation, including: an Opportunity Fund, or forgivable loan program offered to small businesses that meet certain criteria, including providing a minimum number of family wage type jobs; a Tenant Relocation Assistance initiative offering significant discounts on planning, building and engineering fees for businesses relocating within the City limits; Enterprise Zone benefits including property tax abatements for new construction after local advocates won the incentive status for Bend – already enjoyed by communities like Redmond and Prineville – by successfully arguing that the city had been severely impacted by recessionary factors in recent history; the identifying and removal of “roadblocks” to business development in the City, including efforts to streamline and update develop-ment codes.
In his opening presentation to the forum, Moseley said the business community had the opportunity to become closely involved in the BEDAP coalition’s drive to envision and execute Bend’s economic development strategy, with a particular emphasis on smaller companies (20 employees or less) focusing on growth and recruitment.
He said, “We want to be a vocal advocate for business, including having input on policy reviews regarding impacts or requirements and capital projects, making recommendations to council and fielding bus-iness complaints.
“We also aim to help coordinate the various small business support organizations and build a consensus or alignment between the groups to create a kind of ‘ecosystem map’ to help companies navigate through the
“The City may have somewhat behind the eight-ball in the past, but the business community has a real opportunity via BEDAP to make its voice heard and support cooperation in being a partner in Bend’s success.”
Earlier in the meeting, Strobel outlined EDCO’s recent progress in working with export-oriented companies, including 16 in start-up or early stage development.
His group was also fully engaged in expanding industry sectors where Bend has proved a great fit and already has some exemplary exponents, including in the bioscience, renewable energy, software, outdoor and microbrewery fields.
He also paid tribute to the new initiatives’ collaborative spirit and commented that Bend’s new affordability in terms of more competitive pricing would help boost business recruitment, retention and expansion efforts.
After the meeting, King said, “When I first arrived, the City had an economic development program that was more focused on areas like Juniper Ridge or affordable housing, rather than a more direct relationship with the bus-
“With more recent staffing changes and the molding of a strategic plan via BEDAP we are looking at retooling and better understanding business needs and better marshalling our resources.
“We have had the opportunity to look more critically at how to stimulate economic activity and job growth, and build a solid platform for the community to grow from.”
City Mayor Jeff Eager added, “I believe it is important that any entity engage at all levels, from policy to operations, to achieve its goals.
“The city council has made private sector job creation a top priority, and while the City cannot itself create private sector jobs, it can, and must, create an environment in which entrepreneurs can more easily do so.
“To that end we have streamlined regulations, kept a lid on development fees, and directed significant resources toward key infrastructure investments needed to form the basis of long-term economic growth.
“We have also worked to engage the business community via the creation of BEDAP and the hiring of Jon as the Bend Business Advocate, to ensure the City hears from those that are working to grow their businesses and
“I believe the City of Bend has made significant progress with regards to its ‘business-friendliness’ in the past several years. However, we still have a long way to go, and there are far too many businesses and families hurting in Bend and we are always open to hearing how we may do a better job.”
Info: Jon Skidmore, Bend Business Advocate, at 541-693-2175 or email@example.com or Eric Strobel with EDCO at 541-388-3236 or firstname.lastname@example.org.