(Sisters Meat & Smokehouse plans to expand its entire Sisters operation | Photo courtesy of Andrea Hine)
“We’re not going to have smokestacks here,” predicted Eric Strobel, Sisters Country Director for EDCO (Economic Development for Central Oregon), who moved to Sisters from Bend — where he had lived for 30 years — because “I felt that I really needed to be here, and know the community and its issues that much better.”
One thing he has found since assuming his position about a year ago is that “Sisters has space for companies now (in the North Sisters Business Park), where before there hadn’t been industrial land and buildings for lease. The pattern in the past had been that companies would start up in Sisters, and then move to Redmond.” In his straightforward way, Strobel explained that “without leasable space, you’re dead in the water. Having leasable space produces interest right away.”
He added that “lifestyle is huge” in attracting companies to Sisters, as well as a “really supportive network of businesses.” As one example, when the founder and formulator of Wild Carrot Herbals — which will be moving its operations from Enterprise to Sisters later this year — spoke at a recent EDCO Pub Talk, “I introduced her to people from other local companies, who unhesitatingly shared information on critical operational factors such as shipping.”
The owner, Jody Berry, commented afterwards that “It was an incredible opportunity to share my vision of expansion to Sisters, and to be part of such a heart-felt lineup of entrepreneurs. I met so many kind and welcoming people at the event, and left that evening feeling even more energized about this new journey, and look forward to being part of the community.”
In the same vein, Strobel has initiated quarterly roundtables to “get owners and general managers together to share information. They want to hear what others are doing and get ideas on subjects of interest.”
One of those subjects is housing, which he admitted “is a big obstacle” and a deterrent in attracting employees. “Of local companies employing 40 people or less, one-third commute from Redmond, and one-third from Bend, while only one-third live in Sisters.”
To help mitigate the rigors of commuting, two local companies — Personalized Nutrients and Metabolic Maintenance — “have linked up with Commute Options to start a vanpool,” said Strobel. “The van (an SUV) is driven by an employee, who is then able to drive it on weekends with a 200-mile restriction. There is no cost to either the employees who utilize the service, or the businesses.”
Quoting EDCO’s motto of, ”Move, Start, Go,” Strobel provided examples of companies that have recently moved to Sisters:
- Trail Butter, co-founded by brothers and avid runners Brad and Jeff Boggess, developed a shelf-stable, trail mix/nut butter snack product in a convenient portable pouch that “became known by athletes and food lovers alike for its all-natural goodness.” Its manufacturing is outsourced, Strobe notedl.
- Milroy Thorson Custom Furniture creates handmade furniture pieces from locally sourced juniper wood, “which is considered invasive, thereby contributing to ongoing efforts to positively impact the local water table.”
- Wild Carrot Herbals (cited above) sells 60 different medicinal herb formulations for the skin and body, which are already available in stores such as Whole Foods and Natural Grocers in Bend.
Examples cited by Strobel of existing local businesses that are expanding:
- Sisters Coffee Company, known for its “house-roasted coffee drinks and light lunch fare such as pastries and sandwiches,” built a new 11,000-square-foot roasting facility last year.
- Sisters Bakery, which turns out “sweet and savory eats, along with gourmet coffee and espresso drinks,” is adding a new 2,500-square-foot production space.
- Sisters Meat & Smokehouse, which recently opened a second location in Redmond, plans to expand its entire Sisters operation and possibly begin to ship out of the area, according to Strobel.
- Personalized Nutrients, which offers “personalized supplement formulations custom-made to meet individual patient’s needs,” plans a 16,000-square-foot expansion on its property.
EDCO, asserted Strobel, “needs to be the voice to support businesses for the next 10-20 years,” especially if the town’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) is expanded to encourage and accommodate further growth. He sees the “sweet spot” for Sisters as “small, owner-operated companies with three to six employees — primarily due to employment and housing.”
“It would be lovely to capitalize on music,” Strobel said, “given the town’s association with music through annual events such as the Sisters Folk Festival and a blues festival; Preston Thompson Guitars, which produces custom acoustic guitars ‘that have the look, playing feel, and above all, the sound of instruments from the 1930s’; a new local radio station; and great concert venues. We should make sure to feature that. We’re not going to have smokestacks here!”
Complimenting the city staff as “really incredible,” Strobel is equally lavish in his praise for the people who make Sisters their home. “Across the board, the community believes in coming together to get things done, which is really gratifying. It’s in the town’s DNA.”