Bottom Feeders

Two kinds of business development

Here’s the deal: If you care about your community, you cannot afford to ignore economic development. 

Economic development is not a benign program implemented by well meaning people to create jobs. It is one of the prime game changers that determine the future of a community. We ignore it at our peril.  

The kind of businesses that we recruit, and how we recruit them, will play a role in determining who we are and what we become. 

A recent issue of “Blue Chip,” the Register-Guard’s business supplement, highlighted the growth of local manufacturing and food processing companies that have grown and created jobs here since the great recession. These are companies that either started right here, in our community, or moved here, and have grown significantly, creating jobs and making positive contributions to our community.  

There are really two kinds of economic development. One is exemplified by the firms in “Blue Chip.” Local companies like Bulk Handling Systems, Sport Hill, Bike Friday, Glory Bee and others that have started and grown in our community — companies that are here because this is their home. These are firms that make positive contributions to our community as they grow here and create jobs. Take a drive out West 11th and you will notice the huge industrial building near the now-defunct Hynix plant. A business recruitment from Business Oregon or Greater Eugene? No, it is Yogi Tea, a local company started and grown right here. 

The other kind of economic development caters to what I call the “bottom feeders.” Bottom feeders are what economic development agencies like Greater Eugene cater to, and would like to recruit — companies that would only locate here for cheap land, low cost housing and labor and big tax breaks. Firms that want to take what they can get in exchange for moving here.

Greater Eugene, the alleged replacement for the Lane Metro Partnership, would like us to believe it is in the business of recruiting companies to move, expand or locate in our community. Of course that is nonsense, Greater Eugene has no real ability or capacity to do that. 

But how they do that is to market us as a cheap place to do business, offering massive property tax giveaways to locate here. There is little or no talk about quality of life or community commitments, just cheap land, and low-cost housing and labor. To Greater Eugene, our community is just a low cost anywhere USA.

There is a better way to do business recruitment, and it is successfully happening right now. 

A recent opinion piece in the RG by Andy Vobora of Travel Lane County highlighted the positive and significant economic impacts by the travel industry on our community. He made good points about the jobs created, as well as other direct economic impacts from our travel industry. While he was correct, Vobora left out another important economic development role played by that industry: business recruitment.

I believe the travel industry, combined with local business associations like The Silicon Shire, and business incubators like RAIN and NEDCO, are our best business recruitment tools that attract and grow the kinds of businesses we actually want. They recruit and assist businesses that contribute to our community rather than just benefit from it. Businesses that want to be here because of who and what we are. Businesses that do not ask for or require expanding urban growth boundaries. Businesses that respect and support our community values. 

When Tracktown USA puts on the Olympic Trials, or the NCAA championships, our community is put on the national and international stage in the best way possible. The media attention is focused on our quality of life around a significant and important community-driven event in beautiful facilities in a lovely setting and with massive community support.  When people come to Hayward field, or attend an Oregon Bach Festival concert or participate in the Eugene Marathon, they see our community at its best. 

Some of them will want to locate their businesses here. 

This is not just “Anytown, USA.” This is a unique community in a gorgeous natural setting. Some of those visitors will make the decision, based on what they see and what they experience, to move or expand their firms here. Others will come here with their ideas and start and grow new businesses, creating jobs. Local industry groups like The Silicon Shire are working diligently to improve the business and entrepreneurial environment and support to help innovative new businesses start and grow right here. RAIN, the innovative University of Oregon high tech incubator, and others, like NEDCO’s Sprout, help people with ideas create jobs. 

This is business recruitment at its best, and it is ongoing and successful. This is how we should be doing business recruitment, not by bragging about cheap land and low-cost labor while offering up huge tax breaks to out of state corporations that can, and would, locate in Anytown USA.

Bob Warren retired in 2012 as the regional business development officer for Business Oregon for Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Benton Counties. Prior to that he was a political advisor to state and federal offices.

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