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FUTURE BRIGHT FOR CURRY COUNTY TOURISM, SPORT FISHING AND REAL ESTATE

By Charles Kocher

Pilot staff writer

The future looks bright for tourism, lodging, sport fishing and real estate, a panel of local industry leaders told the annual Business Outlook Conference Tuesday.

And while the future of education funding is bleak, schools will continue to "do the job," the fifth member of the panel reported.

The Local Industries Panel is a fixture in the program of the Business Outlook Conference, organized each year by the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

While the topics for each panel member varied, tourism turned out to be part of each of the presentations.

Jim Relaford, an organizer of the Slam'n Salmon Derby, told the conference crowd that organizers expect 1,000 entrants for their Labor Day event. "When we started this three years ago, we didn't know if we could get 100."

With the fishermen alone spending an estimated $150 a day before food and lodging, Relaford said the derby means about a million dollars in revenue.

"Sport fishing is alive and well," he said. "We know the demand is there."

Bob McNeely of Whaleshead Resort reaps thousands of dollars from the salmon derby weekend, and on weekends for the other special events in the community.

"The activities bring them there," McNeely said, "and the people that are lodging them are why they stay."

For that reason, McNeely encouraged businesses to "hire good people, keep your good people."

"Without the employees, it doesn't work," he said of the hospitality business. "You have to pay them well enough."

McNeely said his business is growing. "We're busy every Friday and Saturday at Whaleshead; it doesn't matter what time of year."

The attraction of Brookings – in the West and on the ocean – continues to be a factor in real estate prices, said Cy Vandermeer, president of the Curry County Board of Realtors.

While average sale prices slipped in 2006, and time on the market lagged, Vandermeer predicted the market will "remain fairly stable."

"There's a finite quota of oceanfront and oceanview property, and the boomers are still making their way north," he said. "Meanwhile, most sellers are not compelled to sell quickly."

Les Cohen, president of the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce, reminded the conference crowd that many of those buying homes come to the area first as tourists."

Using motel tax receipts and requests for information to the chamber, Cohen reported that tourism has remained strong in the community despite high gas prices.

"The last two years we've seen the highest fuel prices and yet our visits numbers continued to go up," he said. "People are still going to take their vacation; they may not come from as far away. The RVs are still coming, but they are staying longer instead of moving around."

Chris Nichols, superintendent of the Brookings-Harbor School District, noted that those new residents often arrive without children.

As a result, enrollment in the school district is dropping, and since state funding is based on student counts, "schools are on a limited income."

Pointing to the school district motto of "hope, possibility and opportunity," Nichols added "I still believe we can do it."

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