PENDLETON - The Dalles turned economic development heads across Oregon last year when it managed to land high-profile Internet giant Google as a new tenant in its bustling port district.
How that came about became a little easier to understand Thursday morning for a group of Pendleton residents who attended the Progress Board meeting, followed by an in-depth discussion of how the successes experienced in a similar community along Interstate 84 could be transferred to the Round-Up City.
The Progress Board is Mayor Phil Houk's advisory council made up of about 30 volunteers from diverse interests. The board doesn't report to the City Council or city staff, but just to Houk, who uses its advice to help set his agenda and priorities.
Andrea Klaas, the executive director of the Port of The Dalles, delivered the central message that economic successes there came about through a simple formula: removing obstacles and creating a can-do attitude.
"Our mission was to find ways to say 'yes' and create the image that we have an attitude that shows we get things done," Klaas added.
She went on to share that communities don't always know the criteria upon which they are being judged as the process unfolds, but they need to keep in constant contact with prospects and make sure any questions are answered - instantly.
"You need a willingness and ability to be nimble and responsive to prospects," Klaas said. "It's easy to get on the prospect list, the real challenge is finding a way to stay there."
One of the foundations of the economic development effort in The Dalles is a strong outreach group composed of the mayor, the city administrator, the port director, the county judge, the president of the community college, the chamber president and someone from the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments. Klaas said the group meets regularly and shares a common mission.
Klaas said any one of the outreach members can answer questions about what's available for development and who prospects need to talk with. That kind of team work translates into economic benefit for the city.
While Klaas said she isn't allowed to share the employment numbers at the Google operation, an article in the New York Times suggested a workforce of up to 200. Information from the port says Google is expanding its operation in The Dalles.
Among those remaining for the in-depth session following the adjournment of the Pendleton Progress Board were Chairman Art Hill; Cal Garton, Pendleton real estate agent and Port of Umatilla official; City Councilwoman Marjorie Iburg; Susan Bower, a member of the Commercial Focus Team of the Progress Board; Stan Timmermann, local wheat farmer and Progress Board member; Debbie McBee, chair of the Commercial Focus Team and a Progress Board member; Lonnie Read, Progress Board member and local businessman; and Jennifer Hawkins, community leader.
That group grilled Klaas with questions for several hours about all facets of how to build a foundation for economic development. One theme Klaas continued to visit was the idea that good economic development isn't about trade shows, trade missions, or spending an inordinate amount of resources on recruitment.
"The successful economic strategies that we have enjoyed in The Dalles," Klaas said, "are built around being ready when people come to look at our community and having everything in place to be responsive. Every economic development program in the country wants to land the big fish. It's really about helping existing businesses grow, finding businesses that relate to attributes you already have and being willing to work with any interested party, regardless of their size."
Klaas also stressed the importance of establishing personal relationships and the importance of having long-term, stable points of contact who can open doors with the real decision makers.
Hill said there are three primary lessons Pendleton can take from what the Port of The Dalles did.
First, he said, Pendleton needs a "single point of contact, a single focus," whose full-time job is economic development.
This position could come to be. The city's proposed 2007-08 budget allocates $37,185 in consultant fees for possible contribution to the Chamber of Commerce toward an economic development position.
Hill said Pendleton's Economic Development Director, Larry Dalrymple, is doing a fine job, but he has to split time because he's also the manager of the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport. Hill added hiring someone to deal only with economic development is a step in the right direction.
The second lesson is to create an emphasis on follow up, Hill said. Even when a city does all the right things, such as have available, shovel-ready land and a trained workforce, a company will decide whether or not the city is a fit for the company's needs.
Rather than flying someone to and fro throughout the county to see if a business wants to come here, Hill said focusing on following up, providing real contact and asking and answering questions, is vital.
Thirdly, Hill said, a community has to build the infrastructure prospects look for.
"You can't stand by and not build your water system ... you can't sit by and have your education system going in the tank," he said.
Being proactive in that manner helps keep a community in a prospect's sights.
"When the time is right, you have to have it there to make the check list and to keep their interest," Hill said.
He emphasized Pendleton has been on the spot when it comes to developing the needs to have a business locate here, as happened with Keystone. But Pendleton can't rest on past accomplishments.
"We just have to organize and prepare and keep doing the right things," he said.