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Editor's Notes: Salem's slow and steady race

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Robin Doussard
Friday, October 30, 2009

Salem always has had a bit of a “pass-through” problem to contend with. Many of the state workers live somewhere else, and if you come down from Portland just to do business, which a lot of people do during the legislative session, you take a fast road into the city core, and then speed out again. This drive-by view of Salem doesn’t give you a full view of some impressive progress being made in the state’s capital, despite the recession.

Anytime I head to Salem, I always make it a point to spend time with Mayor Janet Taylor. The chic high-energy mayor knows her city inside out and on this trip the discussion was more poignant than previous ones. Taylor, who is 68, announced in mid-September that she would retire in December 2010, having by then served four two-year terms.

As we ate lunch at the Phoenix Grand Hotel, itself a point of pride for downtown redevelopment, she outlined what she would focus on in the next year: basically, jobs, jobs and jobs. It isn’t much different than the focus of her past three terms, and it’s refreshing to hear a politician’s understanding that without enough jobs in your community, nothing else really matters. Core issues of poverty, education and health all depend on being able to earn a livable wage.

Taylor plans to find out what needs to be streamlined for business, what creates extra cost, and figure out how to work with the state on infrastructure needs. She confided that the city was close to getting a “big distribution company” to set up shop in Salem that would bring 250 jobs with it, and perhaps another solar company and maybe some of Sanyo’s vendors.

It’s the all-important cluster effect. Sanyo Solar of Oregon's $80 million solar-cell manufacturing plant opens this coming Monday, bringing with it 200 jobs. The factory will produce silicon wafers for solar cells and is located in the Salem Renewable Energy and Technology Park.

Jobs also came with the dazzling new $40 million Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, which opened just a few weeks ago. The center provides 160 mostly part-time positions and already has 5,000 members. The Kroc grant provided $35 million for construction and the same amount for an operating endowment, and residents raised more than $10 million. Impressive for a city where a significant portion of its residents live in poverty.


The 92,000-square-foot center has a competition-size swimming pool (which Taylor fought particularly hard for), family fun pool, community rooms, an NBA-sized basketball court, workout room and climbing wall. Taylor says she ran for one more term just so she could preside over the opening of the center. As she gives me a tour of the center, pointing out each feature and talking about what it means to the community, I don’t doubt her at all.

Also doggedly moving along is the redevelopment of the old Boise Cascade mill in Salem's downtown. It’s been demolished and plans for the 13-acre site include a mixed-use development that includes a destination lifestyle center, housing, live/work spaces, offices, riverfront dining and public access to the river. The site reportedly already has attracted interest from a health club, hotel and restaurant.

“Salem has turned a corner. I’m not sure exactly when it happened,” said Tim Gerling, the project manager for the Boise site redevelopment, in the Statesman Journal a few months ago. “We’re not the town we were 30 years ago.”


I have to disagree. With the Kroc Center's debut, Sanyo open for business and the old mill site gearing up for transformation, it’s not the town it was three years ago.

Robin Doussard is the Editor of Oregon Business.




Marc Rocque
0 #1 Mr.Marc Rocque 2009-11-02 08:24:29
Janet Taylor is the best thing that has happened to this city; I've been here since birth in 1951. She has the vision, the business experience, the dedication, the work ethic, the positive attitude, and a remarkable talent for getting things done. This has made her a truly wonderful Mayor, and we will miss her.
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Dmitry White
0 #2 Unfortunate PrioritiesDmitry White 2009-11-02 09:06:03
Interesting to note that the "jobs, jobs, and jobs" that actually HAVE materialized in Salem (from the Kroc center) are "mostly part-time positions" that probably don't come with benefits, etc. Also, the article states Mayor Taylor "fought particularly hard" for the Kroc center's pool; however, the public pools that already exist in low- or middle-income neighborhoods (Olinger, Walker, Leslie) are either defunct or on their way there. I wish our mayor would fight "particularly hard" for existing neighborhood pools, rather than a shiny new $750 million complex that is impossible to reach except by car. This is just one example of this mayor's attitude toward our city: What's good for business trumps what's good for the citizens.
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0 #3 Huh?!Jonathan 2009-11-29 19:51:31
I would say Mayor Taylor is absolutely the worst thing that could have happened to Salem in the past eight years. When I moved here from Cincinnati two years ago my first question was, "where are the jobs". I started my own company here but I did the research first. Why did no one mention that before 2008 there was a pre-existing underemployment rate in Salem of 28%?! If you add that to the already dismal unemployment rate we are looking at close to 40% unemployment.

Jobs seem to be the last priority of this mayor. Sure the condos and buildings that have been built provided jobs, but those jobs went mostly to workers from outside of Salem. When you make jobs a priority you do what you have to do to court big manufacturing to come to town. Since we live in a green state we should be working hard to strip the top green manufacturing titles out of the hands of east coast states.

For pitty sake the top private employer in Salem is the hospital. Just running the employment data, speaks volumes to her value to this city.

And SEDCOR is a worthless entity that brings zero value to our city. And while I'm at it the Chambers of Commerce and their total lack of direction (Travel Salem) are worthless too. First folks we need to have a downtown full of businesses and restaurants that are open late. We suffer from an old time downtown, with stores and restaurants closed on Sundays and Mondays and with hours of 10 am to 5 pm. What?!

I wonder if the mayor knows that their are three generations that make up the age group of 15 to 54? That is roughly 80,000 Salem residents. What has she done that will ensure jobs for those folks?! Nada. If we had 200 SANYO plants it would be a start at covering employment for those three generations alone.

Those 80,000 voters are going to unite this spring and vote for a new mayor and 5 new council members. I hope the old guard enjoyed their 20 year run to ruin Salem. The city needs to be run not with the short sighted views of 20/20 Vision. We need a city that is strong now so that 12 generations from now, those Salemites are not struggling with the same issues, because no one had the business or community sense to step up to the plate and hit a home run.
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Young Professional
0 #4 Salem young professionals and creatives against TaylorYoung Professional 2010-02-11 16:34:19
As a resident of Salem for more than 10 years, and as someone who took her on when I used to work for the local newspaper, it is obvious that the editor hasn't done her research here. Mayor Taylor has made sure that Salem is out of touch. She has brought low-wage jobs to Salem, supporting call centers (Wachovia) in her push for a "shovel-ready" city. She has allowed growth and sprawl to reign unmitigated, at the cost of the health of the citizens, and longer commute times. She has come out against mass transit, buses, bike lanes. And she is on the record as once saying she didn't believe global warming exists. She has constantly given hand-outs to her buddies in the development community. She consistently votes against the progressive voices in our city: against affordable downtown housing, against a thriving music scene, against young creative cultural people. She torn down public kiosks that showed how vibrant Salem indeed is. She has come out against live music downtown (too loud), against chickens in backyards (too dirty), against a real vision for Salem that doesn't include sprawl, and against real job creation that includes nurturing small, independent businesses. She has taken Salem back 20 years, while other cities focus on green, sustainable jobs and livable communities with good paying jobs, she has focused on substandard housing, low-wage jobs and a score that gave her the worst environmental record of any mayor in Oregon. Kudos indeed.
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