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Editorial: SHEDG board's efforts to address challenges deserve recognition, appreciation

 

December 13, 2016



It’s easy to get frustrated with the way things have played out with the Sweet Home Economic Development Group.

After those years of great success, the nonprofit group has struggled with a variety of challenges, as detailed in our report under the "Community News" heading: "SHEDG reports loss for 2015, expects more red ink for this year." It hasn’t been a pretty story.

But the good news is that we can have reason to hope that change is afoot.

Before we go into that, though, let’s make sure one thing is clear: We are studiously avoiding comparison of what’s going on now with what previous SHEDG board members have done. The fact that SHEDG is close to going in the red now is probably evidence of missteps, but life is complicated and we all need to remember that.

SHEDG is an unusual group. It is a nonprofit with a few paid employees who put on a multi-million-dollar country music festival that, not so long ago, was so successful that it inspired copycats, including one held not more than 13 miles down the road by a neighboring community backed by big corporate bucks.

That’s been one of the big challenges for local organizers, as this and other competing events have sprung up, including one in-state festival now held on the same weekend of the Jamboree. Enough said.

As noted in our report, the costs of putting on the Oregon Jamboree have skyrocketed. The multiplicity of events and corporate sponsors has diluted the supply for festival organizers. The local nonprofit, which was organized more than a quarter-century ago to find solutions to the economic disaster created by the shutdown of logging in the national forest around Sweet Home, finds it increasingly difficult to put on its primary fund-raiser. Hence, the economic development has stalled as well.

Yes, it’s frustrating.

Remember, though, that nearly everyone involved in this effort is a volunteer. It’s really amazing that, in a community the size of Sweet Home, SHEDG is even alive more than 25 years after its organization, considering that we’re talking about a population of barely 15,000 people here, the large majority of whom don’t even work locally.

And progress is happening.

From what was, to put it bluntly, too much of a seat-of-the-pants operation that lacked many of the checks and balances that an operation the size of the Jamboree should have, dedicated individuals are making changes that local residents should note.

Board members – and remember these are all volunteers – have taken it upon themselves to rewrite the rule book for the organization. Or, maybe we should say, “write a rule book,” since one really didn’t exist, providing the opportunity for loose financial transactions by staff and volunteers over the years.

Note, we are not saying that such took place, but the policies needed tightening and it’s happening, thanks to some people who are experienced in this area and know how to make it happen. Still, it’s a big job and everyone who enjoys or benefits from the existence of the Oregon Jamboree should recognize and be thankful for the hours and hours these people are putting into the task.

Festival organizers aren’t giving up. They’re stepping up their game to try to find ways to compete.

We should all be thankful for that, too. As board Chair Rachel Kittson-MaQatish put it to our reporter, the “risk, the hard work and the sacrifice” contributed by the “visionaries and leaders” who came up with idea and actually made the Oregon Jamboree happen, then continued to do so for the next quarter century is in itself enough reason to keep this thing alive.

It’s been a long time since a study has been done on the economic benefits of the Jamboree to Sweet Home – the Jamboree reported in 2012 that direct and indirect benefits to the community totaled $255,000. Whether that’s still the case would have to be determined by someone with resources we don’t have, but we have eyes, and so do our readers. It’s probably not an underestimation to say that the accumulated benefits in sales in local businesses, water bottle sales, parking, showers, private camping and all the rest of the opportunity that comes with the Jamboree still total well over six figures. Sure, it might be hard to specify the cash flow, but anyone who argues that the Jamboree doesn’t benefit Sweet Home is simply blind.

SHEDG’s role in the community gives it a sort of quasi-public status, which can be a little unwieldy at times and, when the organization has not been forthcoming about what is happening financially, has generated suspicion.

We should all appreciate efforts by SHEDG’s leadership to be transparent. As an organization in which every member of this community, who is affected by the Jamboree – and by economic realities – in Sweet Home, has an interest, it’s better for everyone when the level of transparency is as high as it can be without betraying business interests.

It’s easy to forget that Sweet Home has also benefited in addition to the entertainment and cash flow generated by the annual festival. The downtown area, despite its flaws, looks much brighter than it did 10 years ago, thanks to SHEDG’s program to improve the exteriors of local businesses – spending $18,000 in grant funds in 2010 alone, which triggered more than $90,000 worth of exterior improvements.

All that came from the proceeds of the Oregon Jamboree.

SHEDG is now also involved in what hopefully will be the development of the former Knife River property into some kind of economically positive use.

We’ve seen a lot of effort from board members and staffers this year to right the ship and the community of Sweet Home needs to pay attention and provide whatever assistance is necessary to get things on the right track.

 
 

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