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Calling All Dreamers

BY JON SHADEL

After first visiting as tourists, entrepreneurs relocate to Oregon and spur economic growth.

BY JON SHADEL

After first visiting as tourists, entrepreneurs relocate to Oregon and spur economic growth

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Kevin Malcolm, left, scoops up French custard-style ice cream at Frite & Scoop, which he opened in Astoria with his wife after they first visited as tourists.

As Kevin and Lisa Malcolm drove across the Astoria-Megler Bridge from Washington into the riverfront city of Astoria, they each had a strange premonition that they were coming home. But in that moment, they didn’t mention the feeling to each other. Instead they watched as the storied port city emerged from a misty fog.

The Malcolms had fled Seattle for a quiet weekend on the Oregon Coast. And having never visited Astoria, they spent two chilly,winter days exploring its attractions — riding the riverfront trolley, scampering up the 164 stairs to the top of the Astoria Column and snapping photos of the sprawling Victorian homes flanking Coxcomb Hill. At some point during these sightseeing excursions, Kevin remembers his wife admitting, albeit in a sarcastic tone, that she was ready to start packing up their belongings. “You’re in trouble,” she told him, “because I want to move.”

1015-bs-travelor04At first they both laughed off the suggestion of leaving Seattle, citing the difficulty of relocating to, and trying to find work in, a much smaller town. But the idea of moving remained latent in their minds. Their jokes hinted at a desire the first weekend getaway had inspired, and they found themselves taking more frequent trips to Astoria.

Soon a lucrative business opportunity presented itself. “It seemed surprising to us, especially in Oregon, that there was no handcrafted ice cream shop here,” says Kevin, “and we knew, given the annual number of tourists, that Astoria wouldn’t be long without one.” They decided to take the leap, and relocated in fall 2014 to open Frite & Scoop, an ice cream parlor serving Belgian-style fries and small-batch ice cream. While it’s been open for less than a year, the Malcolms have already hired employees to keep up with demand — adding to the 101,000 travel-related jobs in the state.

The Malcoms’ successful ice cream shop is just one example of the surprising impact tourism has on business development. From coastal cities like Astoria to eastern towns like Pendleton, entrepreneurs have chosen to relocate after first visiting as tourists — opening or expanding their businesses and contributing to Oregon’s $10.3 billion tourism industry.

The Malcolms move to Oregon to launch a business isn’t an isolated occurrence. According to a 2011 study conducted by Dr. Suzanne Cook for Travel Oregon, 2% of visitors consider opening, expanding or relocating their business here, which represents hundreds of thousands of business prospects.

Examples of tourism spurring entrepreneurial activity and inspiring new and expanded business ventures can be found all around the state.

While the Malcolms scoop their French custard-style ice cream in Astoria, a couple of transplanted milliners craft Western-style hats at the Montana Peaks Hat Co. in Pendleton, a city famous for its woolen mill and major annual rodeo.

Owner Laura Wortman and partner Richard Blackburn chose to relocate to Oregon after first visiting as tourists, moving their successful company with them. “We had grown tired of Montana,” admits Wortman. “The winters were too long, too cold and too windy. That’s why we spent two years looking for the right location.”

“When we passed through Pendleton, something about it immediately felt right,” Wortman says, describing how they immediately connected with the people and the city’s traditions.

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The world-famous Pendleton Round-Up attracts more than 50,000 visitors who support local businesses. Events such as these inspire entrepreneurs like Montana Peaks Hat Co. to relocate their operations to the state.

Wortman and Blackburn custom make felt hats — from John Wayne-style cowboy hats to classic fedoras — on authentic 19th century equipment. Their dedication to a fading trade has resulted in a steady stream of business from around the world, with clients including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Disneyland Paris and studios in Hollywood. And while they could’ve settled anywhere, they were immediately drawn to the culture in Pendleton.

1015-bs-travelor01“Part of the reason we make cowboy hats is that it’s a part of our heritage, and we want to keep that alive on American soil,” she says. “We love that Pendleton is a strong supporter of Western culture and identity.”

The relocation of Montana Peaks Hat Co. is another good example of how marketing Oregon as a tourism destination attracts successful businesses to the state that drive regional economic development. But Wortman also sees how tourism has a direct impact on the continued success of her own hat company.

“In Pendleton we’re building on our reputation as a Western town, and promoting that brings tourists here who support our craftspeople and small businesses,” she says, spelling out how events like the world-famous Pendleton Round-Up attract visitors who inject dollars into the local economy. The Round-Up draws around 50,000 attendees for one of the largest rodeos in the world, as well as a traditional pageant, and Wortman adds that a number of customers discover the shop because of the event. “It brings tourists to Pendleton, and then people realize all of the other great things you can do here.”

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Laura Wortman and Richard Blackburn of Montana Peaks Hat Co. handcraft felt hats on century-old equipment in their shop in Pendleton. They relocated their successful business here after they fell in love with Pendleton on an Oregon road trip.

Research indicates that these positive financial benefits from tourism linger long after a visitor returns home. Cook’s 2011 study also shows that visitors don’t only buy Oregon goods while in the state; nearly 60% continued doing so after the end of their trip. Additionally, the study reports that 40% of visitors believe sharing Oregon products with family and friends greatly influences their decision to visit again, indicating tourism can have a long-lasting influence on the success of local businesses.

And while it can be tricky to define exactly what makes Oregon so attractive that visitors would want to move, expand or launch a business here, transplants like Wortman often cite Oregon’s active lifestyle, creative culture and stunning outdoor scenery as motivating factors. “There’s so much variety here, from the rugged coast to the high desert,” she says. “We’ve found that it’s not only a great place to visit; it’s a great place to live.”

In their ice cream shop in Astoria, the Malcolms often overhear visitors echoing the sentiments they shared upon first visiting. “A day doesn’t go by where I don’t hear a customer say, ‘I want to move here’ or ‘I’ve fallen in love with this town,’” Kevin says. “Oregon just seems to have a magical spell that makes people want to move here and start a business.”

 

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