Take a hint form Crook County
By Tony Ahern
If a local economy ebbs and flows, we must be in one heck of a trough.
Last month's announcements of Hatfield's closure sent shock waves of reality through the Madras area. Now Cascade Sports Authority's is locking the doors at the end of April. This on the heels of Granny's Kitchen and Los Mariachi's closing in the recent months. B&D Glass closed its Madras shop, and the Antique Mall in downtown Madras recently closed as well.
In fairness, there is positive news on the retail front. The Les Schwab move to the old Safeway is moving along (expect it late this year). We have investment and commitment to change in two locals businesses, in Matt and Stacie Zachary's purchase of Petals 'n' Poseys and Snap Shots moving from Fifth Street to a larger location on Sixth and B. While Mariachi's closed, La Favorita opened next to Jefferson County Title. The Dollar Store quietly moved in where the 99 Cent Store was before.
But this is mostly moves, buyouts and replacements. Nothing truly new.
The local retail/service economy isn't dead; it has a pulse. But don't send the doctors home just yet.
Greg Kemper, owner of Cascade Sports Authority, is closing his struggling Madras store and focusing on his Prineville location, which is doing better economically. He says Prineville people more loyally shop at home than Madras consumers.
This may or may not be true (a few years back reports indicated Prineville had a higher "leakage" rate than the Madras area, but it could have changed by now). Certainly the local business economy appears more vibrant in the Prineville area than in the Madras area, a change from the relatively bullish times of the mid-'90s in Jefferson County.
Maybe Crook County is just an easier place to make a buck.
For years, the City of Prineville had no systems development charges while Madras has comparatively high SDCs, which hinders developers. Prineville has since established some SDCs but they are still below average. On the county level, Crook is famous for bending zoning to allow development while Jefferson is among the state's most restrictive.
Consider two big news stories recently coming out of Crook and Jefferson counties:
In Crook County last week, news of a potential 900 lot vacation home/golf course project near Powell Butte was in the papers. The folks behind Eagle Crest are behind the effort.
This week the Pioneer has a Jefferson County story which paints a different picture. The Ponderosa Land & Cattle Company recently paid Weyerhaeuser $12 million for 12,000 acres of timberland in southwestern Jefferson County. They planned to sell large lots for potential homesights, and possibly create a resort. However, the new county commission is considering changing the Forest Management Zone in a way that would ban such projects.
How angry would you be if you spent $12 million to start a project that fit under existing rules, only to have the rules changed on you?
Locking up forest land may keep man's footprints away from the trees, but it also locks out potentially substantial tax base-building development.
The Crook and Jefferson projects are not one in the same, but they do make clear examples: one county is much more inviting to developers and entrepreneurs and more courageously attempts to expand the local economy. The other seems focused on keeping things exactly as they are, with policies that maintain the status quo instead of lighting a fire under it.
The status quo, we are learning, isn't taking us anywhere but, eventually, downward.
Maybe the majority of local residents don't care. The political climate made evident in the Cogentrix debate and, to a lesser extent, the state prison project, has made it evident that economic growth doesn't rank high within the area's priorities. Leaders who espouse ideas on economic invigoration are labeled as greedy or motivated only to line their own pockets.
The Madras-Jefferson County economy isn't dead, but it needs resuscitation. There's no magic formula, but making things easier for entrepreneurs and developers in our cities and county can't hurt.