Gov. Theodore Kulongoski's Economic Revitalization Team met with city of Brookings officials last week to get input to help design legislation aimed at promoting rural economies.
"The governor believes that focusing on economic development in rural communities is really important," said the Director of the Intergovernmental Relations and Economic Revitalization Team Ray Naff.
The inter-agency Revitalization Team is on a nine-stop fact finding tour of rural Oregon including representatives from governors office, Oregon Department of Land and Conservation, Oregon Department of Housing and Development, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Economic Community Development Department, Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Department of Agriculture.
The purpose of the meeting was for the governor's Revitalization Team to receive input from the community so the Team did more listening than commenting.
Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman outlined the city's current attempts at economic revitalization.
He began with the city's facade improvement program, showing before and after pictures of properties that had taken part in the program and improved the look of their store fronts.
He then discussed upcoming projects that the city believes are important for revitalizing Brookings' economy.
The first was Southwestern Oregon Community College's proposed new campus on the Borax development site.
"This is an extremely important project for the city," Milliman said. "It would be an economic shot in the arm while also providing education and training for Brookings residents."
Curry General Hospital Health Network's plans for building a new medical center was the next issue touched upon.
"The clinic currently has an inadequate facility. Convenient medical care is extremely important for bringing more industry to the area," Milliman said. "We are trying to be as creative as we can to find funding solutions."
Sudden Oak Death was another concern. Sudden Oak Death is a plant disease caused by water mold, which affects more than 100 species of trees, herbs, shrubs and ferns. Curry County is the only place in Oregon to have the water mold.
"This is a devastating disease that resulted in a large quarantine area which requires logging companies to wash their logs, and other agricultural industries to have strict reporting and inspections," Milliman said. "It has resulted in some products being refused at the (California) border. The economic impact on the community is hard to define."
The last part of the city presentation involved the recent Highway 101 improvements that have occurred along Chetco Avenue, and the importance to the city of having good parks for recreational visitors.
"We have had a lot of positive reactions from people who haven't been in town for a while," Milliman said in regard to the Chetco Avenue improvements.
After Milliman's presentation, City Planning Director Dianne Morris spoke briefly about the city's attempts at providing affordable housing.
"We are currently in the process of commissioning an economic opportunities analysis of the Brookings area," Morris said. "A result of the analysis will be an inventory of commercial and industrial lands."
According to Morris this is important to the city because there have been suggestions that rezoning industrial land to R-3, multi-family dwelling, could go a long way to relieving the affordable housing crisis.
"Our leading industry is tourism, and we are also a big retirement community, so the service industry is really important," Morris said. "Considering that service industry jobs are generally on the lower end of the pay scale, affordable housing is a very important issue."
According to Oregon Housing and Community Services Director Victor Merced, this is a problem that many rural communities face but not to the same degree as Brookings because of the limited availability of land in the area.
"We have a pretty big acquisition rehabilitation portfolio," Merced said. "Some of the cities where we have done development like you are suggesting have ended up being very successful in their efforts to improve affordable housing availability. You're not alone in this dilemma."
Brookings City Councilor Dave Kitchen expressed frustration about the difficulty of bringing affordable housing and more jobs into the community.
"What comes first affordable housing or industry?" Kitchen asked.
This question was echoed around the table as being a hard one to answer by everyone except City Councilor Ron Hedenskog.
"People come to Brookings to fish," Hedenskog said. "A big fat dead salmon twitching in the bottom of the boat is what people come to Brookings for. If the fishing comes back it won't matter what comes first, we will get both affordable housing and more jobs."