(Photo | by Kristine Thomas)
The astonishing beauty of the Three Sisters mountains, boundless recreational opportunities from downhill skiing to trail running and a charming downtown are a few of the reasons business owners and people are deciding to move to Sisters. Sisters Mayor Michael Preedin said maintaining the Sisters’ small-town charm will require careful planning to accommodate both residential and business growth.
According to research by Portland State University, Sisters is ranked the eighth fastest growing city in Oregon, growing by more than 50 percent from 2010 to 2020. “We all recognize Sisters has grown and will likely continue to grow, but we are committed to Sisters continuing to be a small-town where people are happy to live here, know their neighbors and treat each other the way they want to be treated,” Preedin said.
Hiring a new city manager is a top priority for the Sisters City Council, Preedin said, adding former City Manager Cory Misley resigned in August to take a job at Portland State University.
Preedin said the city is working with a consultant to recruit a new city manager. “The consultant has met with each of the city councilors and others to create a profile of the qualities we want in our next city manager,” he said. “We are following a timeline of when to advertise for the job to interviews with the goal of hiring someone in December and the new person starting in January.”
Preedin said Public Works Director Paul Bertagnahas and his staff along with other department heads have done an excellent job planning for future growth. “Paul has worked for the city for more than 20 years,” Preedin said. “He’s been staying about 20 years ahead of what we need to thrive as a city including planning for future infrastructure needs including water and transportation.”
The influx of new traded-sector businesses has created a need for affordable housing, Preedin said. “Housing prices have increased in Sisters like they have throughout Central Oregon,” Preedin said. “The city is working with partners to build affordable, multifamily housing. Tourism is key to our economy and for it to be successful we need people who can live here and work in the services industry like our grocery stores and restaurants as well as traded-sector jobs.”
Traffic safety is the number one public safety issue in Sisters. “We worked with our partners to build a roundabout on the west side of town, and we will be installing a roundabout on the east side of town,” Preedin said. “We currently have four million cars every year that go through Sisters. By having the roundabouts, it will connect travelers to a bypass making it easier to go around town, if they want.”
He estimates construction for the new roundabout to begin in the spring of 2024. “We are also working on a transportation hub making it easier for buses to come from around the region,” he said.
Preedin said the city recently renewed its contract with EDCO, which focuses on traded-sector companies that export most of their products or services out of the tri-county area. Eric Strobel was recently hired as the new EDCO Sisters director.
Strobel said the combination of Sisters’ beautiful setting with access to a diverse array of recreational activities, a friendly community, a progressive business-friendly city administration and a community that supports local schools, arts and culture organizations are what attracts businesses and residents to Sisters.
Although the pandemic slowed the recruitment of traded-sector businesses to Sisters, two Portland-based companies found everything Sisters had to offer to be a better fit for their operations.
Holy Kakow Owner Wyatt Woods started his organic chocolate sauce and latte syrups in Portland in 2009. He moved his business to Sisters in 2021. “For the owner of Holy Kakow, the quality school system and small-town atmosphere ranked high,” Strobel said.
Trail Butter Co-founder and CEO Jeff Boggess shared the primary reasons for moving his company had to do with the desire to be based in an outdoor-focused town near the mountains. Learning about the trails for trail running and the opportunities for outdoor recreation drew them to the area.
Outdoor enthusiasts are a key part of Trail Butter’s brand identity. “We love the vibrant business community in Sisters and nearby Bend, with many like-minded outdoor and food companies already calling the area home,” Boggess said.
Besides recruiting businesses, Strobel assists them in expanding, which Sisters is seeing numerous existing companies doing.
In the past, Strobel said when a Sisters company wanted to expand, it meant a move to Redmond because industrial lease space or land wasn’t available. “It’s a different story now,” he said. “There are four business expansions happening and all are staying in Sisters.”
He also shared Sisters has two industrial building projects and one Class A office space project with possible space for tech companies in production. “With this new business infrastructure, Sisters is investing in the future and setting the table for more living wage jobs,” Strobel added.
Business sectors in Sisters include vitamins/supplements, technology/software, food/beverage production, green bio-based energy, outdoor recreation, aviation flight science and wood products/musical instrument production. That diversified economy helped Sisters from December 2019 to December 2021 when tourism took a hard hit throughout Oregon and elsewhere. “Sisters added added 382 jobs during that time, an almost 16 percent increase,” Strobel said. “This was more jobs per capita than any other city in Central Oregon. Leading the job additions were manufacturing and professional services showing Sisters’ job diversity is healthy.”
Sisters has several long-established traded-sector companies including Sisters Coffee Co., Metabolic Maintenance, Laird Superfood and Josie’s Best Gluten Free Mixes.
The new and existing manufacturing and technology companies in Sisters have expanded to provide living wage employment for the Sisters community. “These jobs are a welcome addition to the robust tourism industry,” Strobel said. “Sisters locals no longer need to commute to Bend or Redmond for a quality job.”