City narrows down list of economic development ideas

A committee appointed by Mayor John Stromberg has weeded through dozens of ideas to develop a priority list of 15 strategies to help Ashland boost its economy.

The next step will be gathering comments from the public, as well as key people representing business, investment, labor, arts, health care and housing interests.

Meetings to start gathering input are likely to start after the Fourth of July, said city of Ashland Project Manager Adam Hanks, the city staff person tasked with managing the effort to create an economic development strategy for the community.

Dates for the meetings haven't been set yet.

In November 2009, Stromberg appointed 22 people to an economic development strategy committee. They brainstormed 50 potential strategies for improving the economy and now have narrowed the list to 15.

"The 15 are really a first cut," Hanks said.

To be effective, the number of strategies will probably have to be narrowed still further, he said.

Some of the ideas the committee removed may work their way back into the process if there is enough public support for them, Hanks said.

The 15 recommended strategies include identifying target industries for Ashland; providing worker training to match business needs; increasing the number of family-wage jobs; spurring private investment in local businesses and attracting more visitors in the spring, fall and winter.

Some strategies are more amorphous, such as celebrating diversity, while others, such as ensuring that there is housing for people of different income levels, would be challenging to achieve because of their cost.

The economic development strategy committee considered dozens more ideas, but ultimately decided against recommending them.

Those included promoting business growth in the sustainability sector; encouraging the film and television industry; developing ways for local businesses to buy from each other; finding out what people are buying outside of Ashland and then trying to offer it here; attracting young families and maintaining an updated list of properties where businesses could locate.

Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas said some of the economic development strategies that were cut by the committee are important, such as the idea to provide local goods and services in Ashland so that people don't have to buy those things from somewhere else.

"Import replacement is critical," Navickas said.

Councilor Carol Voisin said as the city gathers input from community members, she hopes it will find a way to gather information from tourists. They may be able to offer ideas about what activities or services they would like to experience in Ashland that aren't now offered, she said.

"I want to know what's missing," she said.

Voisin said the city should also make an effort to reach out to students, members of environmental groups and people who own homes in Ashland but live here part-time.

Councilor David Chapman said he thought the economic development strategies were too vague, based on how much effort has already gone into the process.

"I was expecting to see some razor-sharp strategies," he said.

Some cities have created precise, detailed economic development strategies.

Bend and neighboring cities in Central Oregon, for example, have a shared plan that calls for creating 1,500 family-wage jobs and $75 million in capital investment through such steps as linking businesses with venture capitalists and helping cities streamline their planning processes to attract businesses and jobs.

Central Oregon cities want to construct at least two new light industrial buildings per year in each community to create room for businesses. The cities want to become magnets for firms that specialize in aerospace and aviation, high technology, light industry, recreation equipment manufacturing, research and development and secondary wood products.

Chapman said he is also troubled by the city government's intent to hire a paid facilitator to handle the public input meetings and 10 focus groups meetings.

The cost of the facilitator isn't yet known because the city will seek bids for the work, Hanks said. The city paid an Albany facilitator $3,075 to lead a City Council goal-setting session in 2009.

The council decided not to use a facilitator for its goal-setting session this year because of the cost and because the council was mainly updating the goals it had set in 2009.

City officials hope to adopt an economic development strategy before the beginning of the next annual government budgeting process in spring 2011.

To read a list of strategies the Economic Development Strategy Committee prioritized, as well as a list of strategies not recommended by the committee, visit

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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