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West Linn to boost business with economic plan

Merge spread out shopping areas into a business district

With 80 percent residents, 20 percent businesses and no real space to grow, West Linn continually struggles to maintain a healthy business community.

To address the issue, the city created an economic task force about three years ago. The task force then grew into the year-old, seven-member Economic Development Committee (EDC). The committee was charged with creating a plan to increase business and livability in the city.

The West Linn City Council approved a resolution to implement the Economic Development Plan during its Oct. 24 meeting.

'This is the first time the city has put together an economic development plan,' city councilor Mike Jones said.

The plan outlines four goals and the steps needed to achieve those goals.

Currently, the city's two largest employers are the West Linn Paper Company and the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. According to the plan, West Linn's economy is based primarily on service- and retail-oriented commercial businesses.

'The perception continues that West Linn - as a whole - has not embraced the business community nor taken significant steps to make it easier for businesses in West Linn to prosper,' the plan states.

West Linn differs from many cities in that it does not have a central downtown. Instead, West Linn has four distinct shopping areas. The goal, according to EDC member Danny Crossman, is to get the four areas to come together as a business district and treat it similarly to the neighborhood associations.

'We need to try and figure out how to help current businesses grow and be successful in this environment,' Crossman said, 'and fill in with new business.'

The four goals in the plan are to raise the profile of the business community; to retain, strengthen and expand the existing business base; to encourage new business; and to create a regional collaboration. Each goal has a list of actions with target dates of completion. The plan includes working with the chamber of commerce and city staff.

'I think over the course of the next year we are going to learn a lot and grow,' Jones said.

Issues the city faces when planning for economic development include the location of businesses, retention and expansion, home occupations, types of new businesses needed, road access and costs.

The five primary areas for business development are the Willamette, Robinwood, Bolton and Cascade Summit neighborhoods, along with the arch bridge area.

A major obstacle in the plan is educating the public as to what businesses are offered within the city boundaries 'so people know we are here, because a lot of people don't,' Crossman said. 'We need consumers to recognize what we have here.'

To attract customers to West Linn businesses, the plan recommends promoting tourism, adding signage and working with Historic Willamette: A Main Street Project.

The city knows what residents want in West Linn, such as local shops and no big box retailers, but Crossman said residents have to realize restrictions. An example he gave was that a city of 24,000 like West Linn cannot support four Thai restaurants for very long.

The EDC wants to create some branding to advertise the city and its features - such as the falls, recreation areas, bicycling and geocaching - to improve tourism.

As stated in the plan, 'West Linn's continued desirability as a place to live is dependent upon a dynamic, thriving business community. If West Linn does not support its business community and help it grow, it will certainly lose its quality of life.'

The EDC is meeting Friday, Nov. 4, to start planning future steps.