By J im Cornelius
The Nugget Newspaper
1/29/2013 12:32:00 PM
Rep. Greg Walden came to Sisters last Friday to sound out members of the local business community on their concerns. The long-time Republican congressman heard plenty.
From local utilities to bank lending practices to the unknown impacts of health care changes, localbusinessmen gathered in a banquet room at Bronco Billy’s Ranch Grill and Saloon expressed a range of cares. But the discussion also turned to Sisters’ assets and the potential for the community to come out of the Great Recession with the ability to leverage outdoor recreation and cultural tourism to attract sustainablebusinesses.
The luncheon was organized by Sisters Economic Development Manager Patty Cordoni, who invited a number of local business leaders.
Realtor Peter Storton kicked off the discussion with an overview of the Sisters real estate market, which most observers see as a key to Sisters’ economic health. Storton sees rising median prices and shrinking inventories as indicators of a return to health for the market.
Benny Benson, president of ENERGYneering Solutions, Inc. and owner of Sisters Airport, briefed Walden on the move to annex the airport into the city and on the potential he sees for the airport to aid in promoting economic vitality.
Benson also thanked Walden for his support of general aviation and of biomass energy. Benson recounted frustrations in working with Central Electric Cooperative on renewable energy, and very briefly pitched the congressman on the idea of advocating for more creativity in promoting local renewable energy.
Several businessmen shared concerns about the uncertainty swirling around the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). Lack of clarity on rules and responsibilities makes it difficult to plan, they said, and they worry about cost burdens placed on employers.
If burdens are too great, said Wade Underwood, of Three Creeks Brewing Co., “you’re going to see layoffs; you’re going to see me not expand.”
Matt Cyrus noted that many restaurants are putting all their employees on a 28-hour work-week to avoid increased liabilities under the act.
Walden said he has concerns about broad impacts from the implementation of the act in 2014.
“It’s all coming at the economy,” he said.
Vito Bartolotta offered an impassioned discourse on the difficulty for even successful businesses in obtaining credit. Banks have tightened up lending to an unprecedented degree, and Bartolotta says it is holding backbusiness.
“It is so difficult to walk into a bank and get anything done,” he said.
As a counterpoint, Ed Fitzjarrel of Metabolic Maintenance Products said he was very pleased with a deal he recently concluded with Bank of the Cascades.
Walden opined that “I think the federal government wants fewer and bigger banks. I am absolutely convinced that that’s (outgoing Treasury Secretary) Tim Geitner’s vision.”
While there was plenty of frustration expressed around the table, the conversation ended up on a hopeful note.
Asked by Underwood what the congressman sees as the best model for small communities to promote economic vitality, Walden cited the experience of his hometown, Hood River.
The community attracted people interested in windsurfing.
“They began to say, how do I get to stay here?” he recounted. “And they began to create their ownbusinesses.”
Building upon outdoor recreation and cultural tourism is a widely accepted course for Sisters. Business park owner Shane Lundgren described efforts to create a mountain bike ranch to create the kind of experience that might draw someone to say “how do I stay here” and start a business.
Walden said he thinks Sisters has a good reputation across the state due to events like Sisters Rodeo and the Quilt Show.
“I think there’s a good, solid image that’s conjured up,” he said. “I think you’ve got so much going for you.”