Sponsored by Energy Trust

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: 5 companies making a mint off kale

The Latest
Thursday, November 20, 2014
kale-thumbnailBY OB STAFF

Farmers, grocery stores and food processors cash in on kale.


Read more...

Corner Office: Pam Edstrom

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits of information from an agency partner and co-founder of Waggener Edstrom in Lake Oswego.


Read more...

Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


Read more...

Dan and Louis Oyster Bar opens up to a changing neighborhood

The Latest
Thursday, December 11, 2014
121114-oystervidBy MEGHAN NOLT

VIDEO: Revamping a Classic — an iconic eatery stays relevant in a changing marketplace.


Read more...

Tackling the CEO-worker pay gap

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY OREGON BUSINESS STAFF

An SEC rule targets the disparity between executive and employee compensation, reigniting a long-standing debate about corporate social responsibility.


Read more...

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...

Two Sides of the Coin

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
22 twosidesBY JASON NORRIS

Historically, when the leaves fall, so do the markets. This year, earnings, Europe, energy and Ebola have in common? Beyond alliteration, they are four factors that the investors are pointing to for this year’s seasonal volatility.


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