OPTIMISM HIGH AT CONFERENCE

January 31, 2002 11:00 pm
Chamber President Peter Spratt, left, Hazel Allen and Daryn Farmer participate in panel discussion. ().
Chamber President Peter Spratt, left, Hazel Allen and Daryn Farmer participate in panel discussion. ().

The tone was generally upbeat at Tuesdays Business Outlook Conference, presented by the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Several local business owners and managers were invited to speak as part of a local industries panel, and they were optimistic about the future of business in Brookings.

High Technology

Don Carr, owner of Megalodon Manufacturing, spoke on the fledgling high-technology industry in Brookings.

His company manufactures multi-media products, including CDs and DVDs. He said when most people think of high-technology, they think of Internet providers like Harborside, Tsunami or Charter Communications. They may also be familiar with computer retailers like Becco or Woods.

Other local high-tech companies have national and international clients. Northwest Technical makes computer components. Assembly Line is an electronic assembly manufacturer.

Companionlink Software will be moving, said Carr, but will leave behind well-trained people for the next high-tech firm that moves to Brookings.

Companionlinks departure signals a decline in the high-tech industry in Brookings, said Carr, but he remains hopeful. He said the local Internet and computer industry is still growing.

Finance

Stan Baron, chief executive officer of Chetco Federal Credit Union, spoke on finance in Brookings.

He said, Merger-mania is alive and well in Curry County. Though there are six full-service financial institutions in Curry County, he said the survival of all six is questionable.

Baron said the Brookings-Harbor area has a micro-economy of its own. He said the real estate market has been active, which supports the construction industry and suppliers of materials.

Baron expected interest rates to remain stable in Curry County. He also said surcharging for ATM use is now a standard and accepted practice.

He said Wal-Mart is suing VISA, and the outcome could lead to sweeping changes in the credit card industry.

Baron said the finance and insurance industry is doing well on the South Coast, with only 2.6 percent unemployment within the industry in Coos and Curry counties.

Tourism

Peter Spratt, manager of the Best Western Brookings Inn, spoke on tourism. He said he was bullish on tourism this year.

Spratt believes the travel industry is on the rebound. He said air travel was down 30 percent in September, but down only 13 percent in December, with travel actually up in Medford. He said the increase is due to pent-up demand.

Remaining fears about air travel, he said, should lead to more people taking driving vacations.

Spratt said the auto industry is coming off record sales years, with sport utility vehicles accounting for many of those sales. He said the South Coast is a good place to drive them.

He also reminded people that Curry County is a stones throw from California, which has the worlds seventh-largest economy.

Californias image has been tarnished lately, said Spratt, so people thinking about visiting there should think about coming a few miles north.

Many people are giving Curry County consideration as a destination. Spratt said the number of hits on the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce Web site has exploded.

There is great opportunity in 2002, said Spratt, but we could blow it.

He said the K-Mart bankruptcy shows what can happen when big business forgets about the consumer and focuses on the stock market.

Spratt said all business managers need to impress on their front-line people the need to be friendly to visitors and answer their questions.

He advised business owners to think of marketing as an investment. Think about the quality of your advertising. Think about what you are trying to promote.

He also advised business people to get together and form strategic partnerships. Spratt said he is constantly amazed that he isnt peppered by merchants wanting to leave information about their businesses at his motel.

Spratt also believes in regionalism. He said businesses spend 80 percent of their resources competing against each other for a bigger slice of the pie, but should also spend 20 percent growing that pie.

The parochialism in this area needs to stop, he said.

The Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce is into regionalism, said Spratt. Are you interested in joining us with a regional attitude?

He reminded local governments that every dollar they spend on tourism produces $4-5 that goes back into government.

Retail

Hazel Allen, owner of At Home...by the Sea, spoke on the retail industry in Brookings.

She said she started a little shop which is four times bigger now and still growing.

Last year was incredibly good, said Allen, even in October and November.

She said Brookings isolation can sometimes be an advantage, with shoppers staying closer to home. She said December sales were good.

Im personally optimistic, said Allen.

When she was thinking about opening her shop, she said, friends warned her about putting it on Chetco Avenue.

She said she had no choice, because she owned a building there. She said she hasnt had any problem with the location.

Friends also warned her that Brookings people shop in Medford. Allen said she had not only been well-supported by Brookings shoppers, but by travelers from Gold Beach, Crescent City and Medford.

Most travelers come from California, she said, but they come from everywhere. They love the friendly people. They ask about living here.

She said people move here for the quiet, peaceful lifestyle, but they still want the goods and services they are used to.

There is lots of opportunity to meet needs, said Allen. There are lots of good locations in Brookings. Look closely at the needs of Brookings and at your own interests.

She was happy about the proposed highway couplet through town, and commended the city leaders who made it happen.

She felt it would double the size of downtown Brookings and double the exposure of the merchants.

Insurance

Daryn Farmer, State Farm Insurance agent, spoke on insurance. He said with eight insurance agencies, Curry Countys 20,000 residents have plenty of people to answer their questions.

He said interest rates may not be rising, but insurance rates are, by about 6 percent. He said both premiums and claims are on the rise.

He said State Farm didnt insure the World Trade Center in New York, but the loss amounted to $40-70 billion. He said insurers are paying $700 million a month in claims.

Farmer said Californians are moving to Brookings and making the pie bigger. He said he knew of one family that moved up from Fresno, and convinced six other families to follow.

Fishing

Linda Brown, the chairwoman of the Oregon Trawl Commission, said the fishing industry has been in a downturn for a long time.

Now that the rest of you are in a downturn, she said, We can feel your pain.

Brown said the fishing industry has its strengths. The world market is robust, and the market for albacore tuna seems to be increasing.

She said sales of seafood products off the boat have stabilized in Brookings, and draw visitors from the Rogue Valley.

Brown said commercial fishing may not be great near Brookings, but the fleet is surviving by going elsewhere.

She said the crab season was good from Coos Bay north, so most of the Brookings fleet went there.

She said the commercial salmon fleet had a good season in San Francisco and Newport. The distant water fleet also fished off Astoria.

Brown said the recreational salmon season is looking good, and will be about as long as last years season.

She said the days of the season are maximized for the best economic impact on the community.

The industry also has its weaknesses, including global competition and weak prices. Brown said record-low shrimp prices have led to an anti-dumping suit against Canada.

She said the fishing fleet is vulnerable, and is drastically resizing because of cuts in groundfish harvests.

She said fisheries managers have a short-term philosophy. The recreational salmon season is not officially set until April, but begins in May. That doesnt leave enough time for promotion.

Brown said the global marketplace gives the industry opportunities in China and South Korea.

There may be marketing opportunities for slime eel, which is caught on the North Coast, and for a type of small octopus.

Niche marketing presents more opportunities. Brown said Brand Oregon is promoted at seafood shows.

Locally, she said, the port is putting in a cold-storage facility. Whiting brings 3 cents a pound as surimi, but 20 cents a pound as a frozen product.

The biggest threat to the fishing industry, said Brown, is a big push from the environmental community for marine protected areas or reserves.

She said those would not only ban commercial fishing, but would be no-go zones for all uses.

She said hatchery closures could threaten recreational fishing, while cuts in dredging could close the port.

In summing up, Brown said, Fishery management issues will continue to be political. The sport and commercial fleets have opportunities. Its not all doom and gloom.

Forest Products

Tim Beckley, human resources manager for Pacific Wood Laminates, spoke on forest products. He said his title was too fancy for a country boy with a sweat-equity background.

He said the wood products industry had taken some tough hits, and attrition had hurt some companies.

He said of Pacific Wood Laminates, however, As a company, I feel were well-positioned for the future.

Were going forward as if the industry will be viable in the future.

Beckley said low interest rates have resulted in new homes and remodeling, and his company benefits from both.

I feel were doing a real good job with industry changes, he said. Small companies can change quicker.

He said his company takes advantage of specialty markets, like supplying the producers of windows and doors.

We have great faith in our people, said Beckley. We met the challenge of a difficult market because of our people. He said the company has 475 employees.

You hear the sky is falling in the wood products business. Were here to say it isnt.

Beckley said Pacific Wood Laminates contributes $20 million to the local economy. We will keep hiring here, he said. We will be here for a long time.

He said the company has the timber, and operates on a better-than-sustained-yield basis.

Real Estate

Sharon Huff, from the Curry County Board of Realtors, spoke on real estate. She said the market has improved dramatically.

In August of 2000, she said, there were 775 homes on the market. Now there are 300. She said more property was sold in 2001 than in many previous years.

Usually, said Huff, a certain percentage of Californians who move to Brookings move back.

With a mild winter in Brookings, and an energy crisis in California, she said, few moved back in 2001.

Its a sellers market now.

Beckley also said the events of Sept. 11 made small towns look attractive, safe and comfortable.

Many factors contributed to good real estate sales in Brookings in 2001, said Beckley.

The town received good press in a national magazine. Prices were low. The chamber of commerce did a good job answering questions. The Web site helped.

Beckley said multi-family units are also selling because they are seen as better investments than the stock market.

Vacationers keep coming and buying, she said.

Beckley expressed concern, however, about higher prices and fewer properties for sale. She said there are only 22 houses in the area for less than $100,000. Of those, eight are pending sales, and seven have less than 1,000 square feet.

We need to find a way to provide affordable housing, said Beckley.

She said the average price of houses listed in Brookings is $236,792. The median price is $185,000.