With new leade, let progress continue

I want to make it clear from the beginning that it would be unfair to expect miracles from Brian Hoffman, who started work last week as the new community economic development director after being hired by the Sweet Home Economic Development Group.

But Hoffman brings experience in not only boosting the local economy but getting people to work together. He’s got plenty to work with here €“ the volunteers involved in the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort (SHARE) along with Chamber of Commerce members, local clubs and other individuals interested in seeing Sweet Home thrive.

SHARE was founded two years ago and I don’t think I’m being overly optimistic in saying that the energy level hasn’t fallen off much since Day One.

Sure, some people have dropped out and some volunteers, for various reasons, aren’t putting in as much time and energy as they did at the beginning. But others have stepped in and things have been accomplished.

The chamber is also beginning to build some momentum and part of the challenge now is to coordinate the energy and responsibilities of chamber members and SHARE in helping to strengthen Sweet Home’s economy.

As we sit here now, looking ahead to the rest of 2010, not only has Hoffman been hired, but we have just received the results of the market analysis from Portland researcher Mary Bosch (see page 1). Bosch says a lot of business €“ $38 million per year €“ is leaking away from Sweet Home because people feel the need to shop elsewhere.

She spent several hours last week with city and chamber officials and SHARE/SHEDG members, going over her findings.

There certainly are challenges, among them vacant storefronts, businesses that need help, poor or no clustering of businesses in productive ways. But Bosch, who has seen these problems many times before, says there’s plenty that works in Sweet Home’s favor and she said we’re moving steadily in the right direction to make it better.

Focused efforts to promote Sweet Home are under way €“ most recently with a brand new kiosk advertising the community at the Portland Boat Show a few weeks ago. Last year, the SHARE Marketing and Promotions Committee, whose activities are most visible to the public, put on the Downtown Salebration community yard sale, which was extremely successful in getting people downtown on a hot summer’s day. Though the turnout for the Warm and Cozy Tour in early December wasn’t what it probably would have been if the weather hadn’t been really foul, the 50-some people who did participate €“ visiting local businesses and earning points toward a chance to win a cash prize €“ had a good time anyway. And I hear that organizers are already making plans to improve both events for this year.

Do I sound naively optimistic? I hope not. I’ve already seen evidence that we have people in place who can make things happen and I’m eager to see more. Other towns in the area have entire calendars of events to attract visitors and bring their local communities together and I, for one, am really happy to see it starting to happen here.

There’s a very real visitor market out there that our business community can tap into more than we have, in addition to serving the needs of local residents.

When I look through back issues of The New Era, from the early 1980s and before, there’s a sense of can-do that isn’t quite as visibly pervasive now.

It’s not gone, of course. The Community Center and Dirrell Harper’s house, both built largely by volunteers, are certainly two fairly recent outstanding examples of the fact that that “can-do” spirit still endures. Spotted owl fever hasn’t killed it off entirely.

But by local business people’s own admission, Owen, the previous economic development director had little success in her efforts to advise local businesses. People didn’t listen, I’ve been told.

Well, let’s listen now. In Hoffman we have someone who has a record of success in towns smaller than Sweet Home and who is here to help us figure out what we need to do to beef up the business district and otherwise improve the community.

He is from a timber town and he understands many of the issues we face here. He’s helped community volunteer organizations and chambers coordinate. He’s had success in landing grant funds to get economic development programs up and running.

I, and many others, can picture a Sweet Home that offers goods, services and entertainment not only to local residents, but will make people want to come here, to take our road to the lakes or the mountains, and to stop and shop on the way. The natural beauty around us, which we see every day, is not just a source of timber revenue. It’s the kind of place that people in the cities want to go on vacation. The question is, do they want to come here or do they want to go to Detroit?

Our goal is to make Sweet Home a vibrant, can-do town that people love to visit and love to live in. If you want to help, join the crowd. We’ve got someone to lead the way now.