Locals reflect on how the loss of the Les Schwab corporate office will impact the communityNews this week that Les Schwab Tire Company will move its corporate personnel to offices in Bend has caused a variety of reactions from people in the community who point to the company as a landmark of Prineville and Crook County's history.
"Even before I moved here, you think of Prineville, you think of Les Schwab," said Jeff Landaker, who is the chairman of the School Facilities and Review Committee. "You know, it's just one and the same."
Landaker and his family have lived in Crook County since 2001.
The committee is examining school building and property needs, and determining whether to ask voters in 2008 for a bond.
On Dec. 12, Les Schwab officials announced plans to become a tenant at the Juniper Ridge Industrial Park in Bend. The company will relocate about 350 of its approximately 1,150-member workforce now based in Prineville to Bend within the next two years.
Landaker commented as to what sort of impact there will be from Les Schwab corporate employees working in Bend, and how that might affect the committee's work regarding whether new schools will need to be built.
"What I feel is that as far as impact, it's going to be very minimal," Landaker said. "There will be a percentage, but a percent of these people are already commuters."
Frances Juris has lived in Prineville since 1940.
"I was thinking of the economics of it," she said of the corporate office move. "Of course, there's the matter of civic pride because Prineville has been the home of Les Schwab and would like to continue to be."
"There will be an impact of course on restaurants and shops of all kinds," Juris said. "And I remember when Les Schwab had his store on the banks of the Ochoco Creek. It was a converted filling station. It had been a gas tation and it had been converted to a tire shop, and we watched with pride his success and felt that we had a part in it. Of course, we just wish them continued success wherever they are, and I'm sure they will keep their distribution center here."
Von Thompson worked for Les Schwab Tire Company and was the vice-president and credit manager at the Prineville office from 1979 until retiring in 2002. He has been active in various groups in Prineville, including the 1990s school facilities committee and on the Crook County Fair Board. Thompson commented on what impact the corporate office move will have on local school activities and civic involvement.
"I expect that the local support of athletics and activities will continue much as it has been in the past, because the store will still be here and they are a primary supporter too," said Thompson, who moved to Prineville in 1949 when he was 2. Later, he attended Oregon State University, and worked three and a half years in Hillsboro and two and a half years in Astoria for U.S. Bank. In 1977, he "came home" to be the manager of the Prineville U.S. Bank branch.
There's also been a question of how, if at all, the corporate move will affect business in downtown Prineville.
"It sounds to me like most of their staff is going to remain in town, and we have a job to do to replace those who may be leaving perhaps, but the base population will still be from them as a major employer in town," Thompson said.
Over time, Les Schwab employees have served Prineville with pride, whether it was on the council or school board, for example.
"I still believe that the employees who will live, work and play in Prineville will still support volunteer positions in Prineville and Crook County," Thompson said.
Crook County Judge Scott Cooper, who is the county's administrator, commented on the move in a press statement.
"Crook County regrets the decision of Les Schwab to relocate its corporate headquarters to Bend, but the community does appreciate the company's continuing commitment to the central Oregon region as a desirable place to do business," Cooper said.
"The Les Schwab Company has been a valuable part of Crook County's history since 1952, and Les and Dorothy Schwab continue to be valued members of our community," Cooper wrote. "The many employees of Les Schwab based in Prineville also continue to be valued constituents of our county, and we expect that most will continue to reside here in years to come, as the company's base employment will continue to make it the county's number one employer."
Cooper said the departure of the corporate offices comes as no surprise.
"As the company has experienced rapid growth, its needs have begun to demand a different environment," said the county administrator. "Long-committed to his home base of Prineville, Les Schwab himself has gradually handed daily control of the company to a new generation with different perspectives. It is probable that this move would have happened a decade ago without Les's personal veto of the idea. Fortunately, in the intervening passage of time, Prineville and Crook County have grown. The community is better positioned today to absorb associated economic shock. Many of the individuals who will be relocating to the Bend headquarters are already residents of Bend and Redmond."
"The corporate presence of the Les Schwab company in Prineville will be missed, but nearly 800 employees of the company are expected to remain in Prineville, contributing to the continued economic and social vibrancy of the community," Cooper wrote. "This latest news represents a jog in the road for the intertwined futures of company and community, but the journey continues uninterrupted."