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Cornelius aims to turn weaknesses into strengths

Remaking small city's image is the goal of new info campaign.

The city of Cornelius is moving ahead with the development of an informational campaign designed to spread the news that Cornelius is a great place to live and work.

In December, after discussing the city’s need to recruit new businesses and retain existing businesses, the 12 members of the Cornelius Economic Development Commission (EDC) decided to analyze the city’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).

The SWOT analysis happened last month.

Between now and mid-May, City Manager Rob Drake and the EDC — with the help of an upper-level advertising and promotion class from Pacific University — will use the SWOT information to produce materials that will redefine and improve economic perceptions of the community.

Internal strengths identified in the analysis included the city’s availability of land and development sites, local workforce, diversity of population, resident pride and the city’s location on the busy Highway 8 corridor, where existing stores and recreational attractions already draw many people to town.

Internal weaknesses included “perceived resident apathy;” a general lack of information about Cornelius’ assets and a lack of the ability to market them; a lack of political clout at the county and state levels; and high water rates — although that last weakness could change soon, when the city’s new underground aquifer begins operating.

Another possible weakness is that some city services are handled by Forest Grove, such as building inspections, although “we have a good working relationship with Forest Grove,” Drake noted.

Real-estate prices were listed as a weakness, although Drake said real estate prices are generally competitive with nearby cities.

In fact, “land costs” were also included on the list of opportunities, along with popular nearby recreation sites such as Hagg Lake, wineries and the proposed Council Creek Trail, as well as large sports events in Forest Grove, which all bring (or are expected to bring) traffic through Cornelius.

External threats included a lack of marketing strategies and the metropolitan population’s erroneous perception that Hillsboro is the “end of the line” — not just for the Portland-based light-rail system but for culture, recreation and employment as well.

After prioritizing the various strengths and weaknesses, EDC members decided to emphasize certain points in the upcoming branding and information campaign.

One will be the new willingness of city staff to work with developers and businesses to solve problems related to locating in the city.

“In the past we had the reputation of being hard to deal with,” said Drake, “but in the last four years, there has been a collective effort by the city council and staff to change that perception, and I know we have.”

The campaign will also emphasize Cornelius’ central location in western Washington County, between Hillsboro and Forest Grove.

“After all,” Drake said, “the city is a service business, and is strategically located in the middle of high-tech industries, an airport, Pacific University, food products manufacturers and wineries.”

With a long history as a commercial center surrounded by valuable agricultural industry, a branding concept could emphasize the presence of the Hazelnut Growers Cooperative, nearby orchard, and tourism complementary to nearly wineries.

And marketing and information efforts should play up the city’s cost-competitive development sites to the regional real-estate industry.

Drake said the EDC and the Pacific University students are ready to run with development and implementation of the campaign. “I’m very excited about this project and the good will it can generate,” he said. “Last week, I met with Professor Sheila Griffee at Pacific University and passed on the commission’s conclusions. I plan to meet with her and the class every other week, and to keep the EDC and the city council informed of our progress.”

With the students’ help updating facts and information about the city and its work on a branding campaign, EDC members hope to create a stronger community identity, to increase residents’ interest, and to encourage citizen groups to participate constructively in community development.

Drake hopes the students will tour the community to get “a better picture of what they are going to represent.”