Council working on new econ development policy

EcoNorthwest Consultant Bob Parker asked the Sweet Home City Council and Planning Commission whether Sweet Home had the right amount of land in the right places in the right uses during a joint work session last week.

Parker was collecting information from the two boards about economic development in Sweet Home.

The session is part of the City of Sweet Home’s work in periodic review, a time during which the city is required to review and update its Comprehensive Plan and land use ordinances, bringing them into compliance with state law and administrative rules.

The work session focused on the Goal Nine, economic development, components of the Comprehensive Plan.

With EcoNorthwest’s work, City Planner Carol Lewis said, the City was hoping to get beyond boiler plate policies for economic development.

The work is about policy, what is going to guide the city through the next 20 years, Parker said. He was looking to the Council and Commission to tell him what they want in the way of economic development. He would take that information and run it through the filter of the state’s rules and requirements to develop local policies.

In about a month, he also will work with the Council and Commission on housing, Goal 10, requirements.

EcoNorthwest’s involvement has focused on completing three reports, including a buildable lands inventory; housing needs assessment, Goal 10; and economic opportunities analysis, Goal Nine.

With the buildable lands inventory, Parker doesn’t believe the City will need to expand its urban growth boundary (UGB).

The questions he is asking, with regard to economic development, is whether properties are zone the right ways in the right places, for example, whether another commercial development node is needed at some other point in the city.

With housing, he will be coordinating population forecasts, 2,000 more persons between 1997 and 2020, to determine housing need in Sweet Home. He will return with technical elements of his work in March with a representative of the Development and Land Conservation Department, who will provide the State of Oregon’s perspective on housing.

Within the Comprehensive Plan, Sweet Home doesn’t have much on economic development, Parker said. The result of his work will be findings, goals and a set of policies for inclusion in the Plan.

Economic analysis connects to nearly all of the other elements of the Comprehensive Plan, Parker said, so it is a good place to start developing new policies.

Economic policies that operate under the principal of recruiting basic industries operate under the subsequent multiplier effect in the community, increasing economic activity through spinoff businesses, Parker said. Sweet Home continues to have a number of those types of industries already.

The basic industry model has several flaws, Parker said. First, it is a zero-sum arrangement, meaning that when an industry enters one community, it leaves another. It also is primarily publicly driven, meaning public staff are not working in other areas, driving up opportunity costs. Large industries can also be hard to get.

Citing a recent survey and other data, it’s not clear who the community believes should pick up the cost of recruitment and economic development, government or private groups, Parker said. Government must pursue multiple objectives, recognizing tradeoffs for fast growth, such as an insufficient infrastructure, or slow growth.

The approach common in most communities now is to recognize that growth will happen and mitigate the impacts of growth, Parker said.

“Sweet Home will grow,” Parker said. The important thing is finding out the “things you want to preserve and how to preserve it. Sweet Home has attracted some growth because of quality of life.”

Parker asked the City Council and Planning Commission to list ideas they have for economic development needs in Sweet Home.

City councilmen and planning commissioners submitted a number of ideas in different areas.

Among them were an emphasis on recruitment, including more entertainment opportunities, business incentives, diversification and an expansion of regional development efforts and working with other communities.

Retention of existing businesses also was important, and the two groups looked toward improving the city’s infrastructure, especially referring the sewer system and the water treatment plant. They also stressed the importance of filling empty storefronts and recruiting clean industries.

In land use, a common theme was the creation of different types of industrial zones, relating to the level of impacts caused by an industry. Other ideas included creating more types of residential zoning, using the enterprise zone designation more and discouraging “dirty” manufacturers.

They wanted to maintain the city’s quality of life and target business development that is complimentary to Sweet Home’s quality of life.

Training was another component listed for the Comprehensive Plan, with an emphasis on encouraging Linn-Benton to develop technical training offerings in Sweet Home, public education and youth involvement.

Assistance could also be made available for business development, especially for “green” type industries.

In approaching these goals, “there’s a lot of tradeoffs,” Parker said. “The question is how do you want to balance all of this.”

In summary, Parker said, the Sweet Home representatives were pro-business and want to attract new business but still want to maintain quality of life. It would require service on someone’s part, but Parker was under the impression the city would not have a lot of resources to put into such efforts and it was not clear who would pay.

One economic development issue the community should be concerned about right now, Parker said, is if Weyerhaeuser successfully purchases Willamette Industries. The community should find out what will happen to Sweet Home’s Willamette Industries activity, whether Weyerhaeuser will consolidate its functions and move it out of town.

Upon completion of periodic review, Sweet Home’s Comprehensive Plan goes to the state level for acknowledgment.