New economic development director knows way around rural areas

Sean C. Morgan

Jerry Sorte is on the job as the City of Sweet Home’s new Community and Economic Development Director.

Sorte had been Morrow County administrator since November 2015. He started in Sweet Home Sept. 4.

After working in rural communities for the majority of his career, Sorte said he strongly believes “that each person can play a positive role in shaping their community’s future.”

He has sought creative ways for local government to be efficient and effectively respond to the needs of the community, he said.

Sorte, 37, grew up in Corvallis and graduated from Corvallis High School in 1998. He graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2002. He earned a master of public administration degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia, in 2006.

He served as assistance director of administration for the City of Fulton, Mo., and then worked eight years as a land use planner and planning manager for Polk County.

He came to Sweet Home because he was “looking to get back into the area, more or less,” Sorte said. He had gotten to know City Manager Ray Towry at a conference. Talking to Towry about Sweet Home, it “seemed to be a good opportunity.”

On a professional level, a position in an organization this size is rewarding because it offers different opportunities in economic development and in planning, he said. He’ll also work on parks projects.

“You can work with your city managers, your planning commissions and councils to try to advance some of their objectives,” he said, and he and the city can take action immediately.

“A community has to discuss what direction they want to take,” Sorte said. Once that’s done, “we can pull out the stops.”

It’s easier in a small organization and tight team, where everyone can be at the table to take those next steps, he said.

As he settles into his new role, “we want to make our planning process as efficient as possible,” Sorte said. He wants to streamline planning, engineering and building functions.

“I think I can pull from my background to try to do that.”

In economic development, a lot of the planning is done already, he said. His job is to work with Towry and the council “to take some ideas and move forward” with tangible projects.

“It will take some time to really know what those priority projects are going to be,” Sorte said. He will start to build a coalition of groups and people to take the long lists of projects identified in previous plans, make it shorter and create some timelines to get them done.

“We have to take those broader ideas and put a fine point on it,” he said. “At its fundamental level, they are projects that can make Sweet Home a better place to live and an attractive place to work.”

Projects could include anything from facade improvements to sidewalk enhancements, he said. “Let’s advocate for a diversified approach to economic development, (learn from other cities) and be effective with the funds that are available to us.”

Growing up in Corvallis, Sorte used to visit Sweet Home regularly, fishing at Foster Lake. He said he’s seen positive development here.

“I think that we’ve got a lot to build off of,” he said. “The location is just prime.”

Sweet Home has great attributes, Sorte said. “You’ve got a citizenry that loves their community. (As a small community), if the groups want to do something, we can do it.”

Sorte is married to Misty Sorte. She is a pre-school teacher in the Corvallis area. They have two children, Isabelle, 7, and Nathaniel, 5. They live in Corvallis.