City grants boost local economy, sustainability

More grant money from Ashland's hotel tax is headed to groups that do double duty by promoting sustainability while also boosting the local economy.

Last year, Mayor John Stromberg proposed that the city earmark $12,500 in grants for sustainability efforts. The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee easily met that mark by allocating $39,056 to sustainability groups out of $149,580 in economic, cultural and sustainability grants that are funded by a portion of the 9 percent hotel tax.

This month, the Budget Committee has earmarked $56,888 for sustainability groups out of $188,758 in funding. The amount available increased this year because of an uptick in hotel tax revenue.

The Ashland City Council must give final approval of the Budget Committee's recommendations, but the council rarely makes changes.

The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy, better known as THRIVE, snared $23,000. A perennial favorite of the Budget Committee, it promotes local food production and consumption.

Formed in 2010, the Sustainable Valley Technology Group secured $8,600 for its effort to create a satellite business incubator in Ashland and offer support services for businesses that combine technology and sustainability. It already has plans for a 1,600-square-foot business incubator in Medford.

"Ashland is so well-positioned with all the intellectual resources that are there," said Mark VonHolle, co-founder of Sustainable Valley Technology Group and president of its board.

VonHolle said businesses that complete a three-year incubator program have an 87 percent success rate, compared to a 60 to 80 percent failure rate for businesses in general.

Three Ashland-based companies — electric truck conversion kit maker REDCloud, seller of downloadable yoga music YogiTunes, and organic distillery Cascade Peak Spirits — are among those that could get incubator and business services help.

The Budget Committee awarded $7,360 to Rogue Valley Farm to School, which connects local farms with schools to bring fresh produce to students while also expanding markets for farmers. That grant amount is up from last year's figure of $4,000.

Rogue Farm Corps, which offers internships at local farms for budding farmers, walked away empty-handed last year after one budget committee member said he wouldn't want to direct youths into such a nonlucrative profession.

This year, Rogue Farm Corps secured $3,000.

"We're seeing a turning of the tides with the local foods movement," said Rogue Farm Corps Director Stu O'Neill. "There are new opportunities for specialty crop producers and local growers. We have a vibrant market and restaurants are willing to support local farms. There's also a burgeoning farm-to-schools movement."

O'Neill said less than 1 percent of the population in America is involved with farming. Meanwhile, the average age of farmers is approaching 60 years old.

"If we don't train folks, in the not too distant future there will be a big question where our food will come from," he said.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, another first-time recipient of the hotel tax grant money, got $2,500 to create brochures promoting Ashland trails to tourists and locals, and for guided hikes on trails.

Michael Stringer, development director for the group, said Outside Magazine ranked Ashland number one in the nation last year for trail running because of its year-round access to trails and excellent terrain.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy will spend the grant money on local graphic artists and printers for the brochures, and will hire local naturalists to lead the guided hikes, Stringer said.

Another new recipient, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, received $5,000 to plant native vegetation and trees near Ashland Creek's confluence with Bear Creek by the Dog Park. Workers will also keep invasive species like Himalayan blackberries under control, said Director Marko Bey.

The effort could augment a city of Ashland proposal to save money on sewage effluent chilling towers by planting trees to cool Bear Creek.

Community members can learn about the ongoing Ashland Creek Ponds Riparian Restoration Project and help with planting, mulching, watering and weeding from

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. Park at the Dog Park. Snacks, gloves and tools will be provided.

Ashland Car Share, which provides a pool of cars for members to share, received a $4,000 hotel tax grant.

The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center received $3,428 to study why bacteria is accumulating in a Talent Irrigation District canal as it passes through town and flows into Ashland Creek. People will monitor whether new dog waste bag stations along a popular canal trail reduce contamination.

The center will also use volunteers to mark 3,000 storm drains with a "No Dumping, Drains to Creek" message. That work will help the city government comply with environmental regulations, said Forrest English, water quality coordinator with Rogue Riverkeeper, a program of the center.

On the cultural and economic development side, big grant winners included the Ashland Independent Film Festival with $26,850, the Ashland Gallery Association with $11,000 and the Ashland Art Center at $10,000. The organizations cater to tourists and locals with, respectively, a film festival, monthly gallery walks and the spring A Taste of Ashland event, and a downtown art center that features a gallery, classrooms, work/sell studios for artists and an art supply store.

ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum, which attracts student and families to Ashland, received $26,000.

More than a dozen other groups also received funding.

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

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