Governor learns of S.H. economic plans during visit here

Sean C. Morgan

A walk through downtown Sweet Home Thursday was an opportunity for Gov. Ted Kulongoski to hear first-hand about Sweet Home.

“He likes to do the Main Street walks,” Anna Richter Taylor, deputy director of communications, said. “He gets better information like this” than by reading reports or polls. He likes to stay in touch with Oregon, and “this is exactly the kind of place we need to be.”

“I come through your town more times than you know,” Gov. Kulongoski told those gathered at City Hall to meet him. He and his wife enjoy hiking the river up the highway and stop off at A on the way back out of the area.

Laughing, Mayor Craig Fentiman challenged the governor to a bowling match for funding to fix Sweet Home’s sewer problems. Gov. Kulongoski laughed and offered to take him up on the bet in some Texas Hold ‘Em.

Gov. Kulongoski turned serious after introductions, asking questions about Sweet Home’s economy as the group walked to Sweet Home Florist where Gov. Kulongoski met owner Peggy Emmert and Seamingly Creative owner Lerena Ruby.

Emmert told the governor she wished the economy were better, with more local industry. People work out of town and often shop out of town where they work. If people living in the area worked in the area, “we think a lot of people would shop here.”

The governor asked about tourism, Oregon’s third-largest industry. .

“More than we used to but not as much as I’d like,” Ruby said.

Throughout his visit, Gov. Kulongoski mixed his questions about Sweet Home up with light-hearted small talk.

“What I know about Sweet Home, coming from Junction City, is they have one of the best swim teams we could not figure out,” Gov. Kulongoski said while at the florist. “One of my kids swam, and they couldn’t beat Sweet Home.”

At the Oregon Jamboree office, Event Manager Peter LaPonte presented Gov. Kulongoski, a Waylon Jennings fan, with a signed Alan Jackson baseball cap and explained the Jamboree’s purpose, providing funds to promote tourism and economic development through the Sweet Home Economic Development Group.

The event has provided a half million dollars in the last five years toward those efforts, LaPonte said.

“It’s a challenge for the board trying to find ways to help people notice places for people to stop,” SHEDG President Ron Moore said. One place where SHEDG and the Chamber of Commerce may be remodeling the Chamber building as a information center and “making a very attractive place for people to stop.”

Moore stressed that the lakes, Foster and Green Peter, are important to Sweet Home’s economy and that lake levels being low will affect Sweet Home.

“I was up at Detroit the other day, and it was really down,” Gov. Kulongoski said. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to fill it.”

But for Sweet Home, with Foster Lake usually full, the tourists will be down here next summer, Gov. Kulongoski said.

The group gathered at the corner of Long and 15th streets to look at the new high school building and community college center. Principal Pat Stineff explained how the high school is working with Linn-Benton Community College through the College Now program.

Gov. Kulongoski talked about education standards in Oregon. Other states, he said, require four years of math and English and two years of a foreign language in high school.

“It’s obvious we have to raise the bar,” Gov. Kulongoski said. Integration of high school and college facilities may help do that. “This can’t be done overnight. Ultimately, I think you’re going to see more of these in Oregon.”

The group visited the Chamber of Commerce where the governor talked about regional economic development. His final stop was at A for root beer floats. Gov. Kulongoski talked with employees and customers, shaking hands and laughing, before talking with Santiam River Club and Western States Land Reliance Trust developers Troy Cummings and Dan Desler about their project then sitting down to his float.

The governor is interested in making sure rural Oregon receives the same attention as the urban areas, Richter Taylor said. That’s why he just created the Office of Rural Policy.

The governor is focused on services and community development, Richter Taylor said. Through his visit and programs, he is interested in matching resources to community needs.

For example, the Jamboree is talking about expanding, a need where the governor’s office could be a partner, Richter Taylor said.

Erik Andersson, regional coordinator for the Willamette Valley Mid Coast Region of the governor’s Economic Revitalization Team, spent the afternoon after the governor left for Eugene talking to local officials about Sweet Home.

Andersson’s team works with state agencies, providing “one-stop shopping,” and local governments to match potential resources to community needs.

Sweet Home has participated in two of the “one-stop” sessions, City Manager Craig Martin said.

Directors meet on a regular basis, Andersson said. If they see an opportunity for a project, they work with local agencies to leverage state and local funds.

“We’re about team effort,” Andersson said. “Right now, we’re working with Coburg, for example, a small community with big sewer issues.”

Coburg has 900 residents but 3,000 employees working there every day.

Andersson’s team is working with Coburg, the Department of Environmental Quality and federal officials to put together funding packages. Coburg residents may be looking at sewer rates of $120 per month if the agencies and Coburg don’t figure something out.

In Sweet Home, “there appear to be a lot of opportunities for assistance,” Andersson said. “I think I have some good marching orders for us as well.”

“Gov. Kulongoski was very genuine,” Councilor Tim McQueary said of the visit. “He is a people’s people. The guy doesn’t seem to know a stranger. The hope (from his visit) lies in the fact that there is now a state understanding of regionally looking (at economic development) in that how do we look and make sure everyone gets a piece of the pie.”

The message Councilor McQueary heard earlier this year on “rural day” at the Capitol was that the state government needs rural economic development.