By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier
MEDFORD — A regional economic development organization launched a splashy marketing campaign this week in an effort to recruit new businesses to Southern Oregon.
The new campaign by Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., or SOREDI, uses a strategic selection of stories, attention-grabbing photographs and video featuring innovative local businesses to illustrate the region’s advantages to potential investors.
“Outside of Portland, people know very little about Oregon,” said Ron Fox, executive director of SOREDI. “They may know about Crater Lake or the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but not much more.”
The campaign, dubbed The Southern Oregon Edge, seeks to showcase the region’s competitive edge, not to mention its natural beauty and recreational opportunities.
One image shows Nathan Sleadd, president of Grants Pass-based ZipLineGear, hanging upside down from a zip line in front of the scenic backdrop of Fort Vannoy Farms. “People aren’t afraid to be different here,” he says in the profile.
Another portrait features Jeff Blum, president of Medford’s Procare Software, posed on the tarmac outside the Medford airport. In the caption, Blum says the airport “is just small enough to be relatively hassle free to fly out of, but big enough to have all the instrumentation to be able to land and take off in all sorts of weather.”
The marketing campaign’s center stage is its website, southernoregonedge.com, which features 10 such stories already, with plans to profile about 25 to 30 companies by the end of next year, Fox said.
The snapshots give prospective businesses “a chance to get to know us,” said Heather McNeill of Make It Happen Marketing in Medford and a member of SOREDI’s Business Recruitment and Retention Committee.
“A business owner looking to locate here can find somebody they like,” she said. “They want to feel they know us.”
McNeill helped unveil the project Wednesday at SOREDI’s annual meeting in Medford, attended by about 250 people. The campaign cost $25,000 for the web and social media launch, and the organization is raising another $60,000 for the project during the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Fox said The Southern Oregon Edge campaign is SOREDI’s answer to consultants visiting the area who have often asked for anecdotal information about what sets the region apart, rather than a slew of statistics.
“They were looking for faces and places,” he said.
That’s what the campaign delivers — profiling real people including Brad Niva, owner of the Merlin-based rafting company Rogue Wilderness Adventures, who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting. Niva said the area’s natural attractions helped draw him here.
“I had to get away from the rigamarole,” he said.
Niva related how he went from precariously making payroll on a credit card to now launching a side business, Wine Hopper Tours. He said he has a business growth plan for the first time and employs 72 people.
“I am my own boss,” he said. “I am small-business proud.”
Niva urged those in attendance to show visitors the sights.
“Take them to the Rogue River,” he said. “Take them to the wineries. They’ll remember that forever.”
Other speakers offered tips, and area businesses and individuals were honored at the meeting:
• MasterBrand Cabinets of Grants Pass was recognized for making several million dollars in investments and increasing its workforce to 450 employees this year, up from 300 last fall. The company once employed 550.
• Dean Wendle of Grants Pass was honored for his work as a founding board member and past president of SOREDI and for his work as a longtime board member for Rogue Community College.
Wendle, said Colleen Johnston of SOREDI, “understands that we are not just one community or 13 communities or two counties, but a vibrant region — when we come together.”
• Craig Bramscher of Ashland electric motorcycle company Brammo said the reasons why Southern Oregon is a great place to work include nice weather, low cost of living, good community support, good roads, low cost of doing business, great people and a healthy place to raise a family.
• Keynote speaker Jay Cross of Webster Global Site Selectors said the region’s quality of life should be marketed to prospective businesses.
“The quality of life is always in demand,” he said. “The culture is extremely important. Get them in the boat, get them on the road, they’re sold.”
Be open and honest about challenges, but tell prospective business owners how problems were overcome, Cross said. “Build a relationship. Find out what’s really important.”
Cross also urged communities to work to together. “A win in the region is a win for the region,” he said.
The Medford Mail Tribune contributed to this report.