Riding high

| Print |  Email
Articles - February 2014
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
0214 REGIONAL1 
 Mountain biking in the Willamette National Forest
// Photo by Chad Sagser

BY SOPHIA BENNETT

Oakridge’s story reads like so many other Oregon towns. For 40 years the Pope and Talbot lumber mill was the major employer in the small community 40 miles east of Eugene. Its closure in the 1980s devastated the local economy.

What came next is also familiar. What Oakridge needed, community leaders promised, was another major employer who would bring high-paying jobs with benefits to anyone who wanted one. To that end, the city bought the old mill site and spent 10 years preparing it for their anticipated savior. 

But nearly 30 years after the mill’s closure, the city’s efforts have seen lots of failures and no lasting successes. “We’re making an aggressive effort to bring jobs to this community,” says John Milandin, the volunteer chairperson of the Oakridge Economic Development Advisory Committee. “In the long run it’s going to pay off, but it’s certainly a tough job.”

Plenty of businesses have inquired about setting up in Oakridge, but few have followed through. The ones that have, such as a cement shingle manufacturer and a small diameter sawmill, couldn’t find markets for their products and closed down. The average occupancy rate at the Oakridge Industrial Park, since it was certified shovel ready in 2007, is 30%.

There is one bright spot in Oakridge’s economy: tourism, specifically its growing reputation as a major destination for mountain biking. The surrounding Willamette National Forest boasts more than 500 miles of trails through old-growth forests and alpine meadows. The sport has proved so popular that the city recently rebranded itself the “Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest.” 

“I always say mountain biking isn’t going to save Oakridge, but it’s got the biggest economic impact in this town,” says Randy Dreiling, owner of Oregon Adventures and promoter of the popular Mountain Bike Oregon festival. “If we didn’t have tourism, we wouldn’t have as many employed and we wouldn’t have new businesses coming here.”

One of those businesses is Brewers Union Local 180, a traditional Anglican pub located in the uptown district. Ted Sobel, the publican and brewer, managed to hold on through the economic recession largely because of the influx of tourists. “Mountain bikers generally like beer, so they come to the pub when they’re in town,” he says. Small business definitely has a place in reinventing Oakridge’s economy, Sobel believes. “But you have to have someone with a vision who does something different. You can’t just slap something together.” Lion Mountain Bakery and the Willamette Mountain Mercantile, which rents, sells and repairs bicycles, are two examples. 

Dreiling believes Oakridge will follow the model of small Oregon communities like Prineville and The Dalles, which attracted Facebook and Google, respectively, with the promise of outdoor recreation for employees and lower costs for businesses. Prineville is a haven for rock and fossil hunters, and The Dalles boasts the Columbia River. If Oakridge can build a reputation for mountain biking, it may have a shot at attracting a similar company. If business leaders are successful, they may demonstrate that selling quality of life in rural communities is a model, not a fluke.

Still, the days of a major employer driving the local economy may be over. “What’s going to make a difference up here is smaller businesses employing smaller numbers of people,” Dreiling says. “If you could come up with a couple hundred jobs, that would be huge.”


Mountain Bike Oregon, a three-day bike festival, brought $1.2 million into the Oakridge economy in 2012. Mountain bikers also spend an average of four days in communities they visit, giving them ample opportunities to patronize local businesses. SOURCE: DR. JEFF MCNAMEE, Linfield College

"Oakridge has an industrial park that's shovel ready. The community has what it needs to support population growth. It's a good place for families. You've got to prepare the fabric of a community, make people feel safe and secure in their environment. If you do that, you will attract businesses and they will grow." —JOHN MILANDIN, Oakridge Economic Development Advisory Committee

"I don't believe in the chasing smokestacks theory. I've seen too many businesses come and go. I think it's going to be smaller businesses employing people. I think what's going to happen is people will come here to recreate, and they're going to move here for the quality of life." —RANDY DREILING, Oregon Adventures

 

 

More Articles

The short list: Holiday habits of six Oregon CEOs

The Latest
Thursday, December 11, 2014
121214-xmaslist1BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

We ask business and nonprofit leaders how they survive the season.


Read more...

Top stories in 2014

The Latest
Thursday, December 18, 2014
10-listthumb

2014 was a year of wild contradictions, fast-paced growth and unexpected revelations.


Read more...

The city as startup

Guest Blog
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
011415 citystartup-thumbBY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Startups in the growth phase are associated with a fresh infusion of capital — human and financial — a curiosity factor and products to disrupt the market and drive demand. Portland’s economy gives off the same aroma.


Read more...

7 industry trends of 2015

The Latest
Friday, January 09, 2015
covertrends15-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Industry groups identify top trends for 2015.


Read more...

Editor's Letter: Tortoise and the Hare

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015

The day after this issue goes to press, the city of Medford will host its annual business conference. The event features Minoli Ratnatunga, co-author of the Milken Institute’s annual “Best-Performing Cities” report. Preliminary data suggests that Medford is likely to retain its No. 1 ranking among best-performing small cities for having a higher concentration of high-tech firms than the national average. 


Read more...

The short list: 4 companies engaged in a battle of the paddles

The Latest
Thursday, December 04, 2014
pingpongthumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Nothing says startup culture like a ping pong table in the office, lounge or lobby.


Read more...

Light Moves

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Fittingly, Light at Play — a business whose sole purpose is to create mesmerizing ambience — was conceived at Burning Man.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS