Notes from Colleen’s Desk: Moving from Proclamations to Strategic Doing

With 14 of 15 jurisdictions having issued Business Friendly Proclamations over the last 10 weeks, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to shift our focus from proclamation to strategic doing. This was a key message shared at SOREDI’s second Crown Dinner held in Grants Pass on Friday, March 1.

Elected officials from 9 communities gathered to enjoy food and fellowship at Climate City Brewing Company, while brainstorming over how the region can clearly demonstrate that it is serious about business development. It was no surprise to us that some of the great ideas offered by those present, consistent with other input we have gathered from the private sector, included:

* Developing skilled workers and defining career pathways for our region’s high school students for the benefit of local companies

* Advocating to reduce regulations that impede business growth

* Aligning curricula at our local college and university with our current industries’ workforce needs

* Creating a community culture that is attractive to younger professionals

* Inviting increased diversity in the population

* Attracting smaller companies that already love the quality of place we have to offer

* Masterminding incredible recreational venues to attract tourism and outside investment that offer long term capacity for local events, as well

* Implementing business resiliency measures to withstand the threats of smoke due to seasonal wildfires

* Creating stronger cohesive messaging from Southern Oregon to the State legislature with regard to measures and initiatives that threaten the health of business in our region

Over the last 18-24 months, SOREDI’s 28-member Board of Directors has been extensively discussing the development of a robust regional strategy. While our federal partner, the Economic Development Administration (EDA), requires a comprehensive economic development strategy to be updated every 5 years, this proposed strategic plan will ratchet up this effort considerably beyond what our agency has ever done before.

The proposed effort to move from proclamation to strategic doing, as shared with guests at the Crown Dinner, must take into the consideration the strengths of our region, the constraints we faced by all of us, and the common concerns of all Southern Oregon communities. In addition, a truly comprehensive effort must encompass the roles of multiple agencies, jurisdictions, partners and business groups; roles that may be well beyond the scope of SOREDI alone.

Collectively, we believe it’s time to embark on a robust Southern Oregon Resiliency Plan for Long Term Economic Vitality unlike any we have ever done before. We are often guilty of a shot-gun approach, attempting to go after every opportunity and be everything to all people. However, Southern Oregon lacks a laser-focused regional approach that celebrates its differences while also being committed to business development, tourism promotion, and new investment.

Imagine the trickle-down effect of really helping businesses prosper in our region. What if everyone was working together toward the same aspirational vision of Southern Oregon? Not just SOREDI, but local Chambers, every community, travel partners, the native tribes, commercial and residential developers, workforce development, private sector companies, and citizens alike; all of us aligning to focus on just a few critical strategies for the greatest good and highest return on our investment.

That is the purpose of a targeted, prioritized regional effort – one that is objectively crafted by an outside consultancy, based on stakeholder interviews and robust data analysis; a consultancy that is experienced in intensive data analysis and plan development to determine:

1) What industries hold the most promise for Southern Oregon and fit the skills of our available workforce?

2) What collaborative and effective initiatives will create a buzz to attract higher skilled professionals to the region, so that we can steadily raise our see our average income levels?

3) What must we do better to create a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem to attract new investment, innovation and good jobs to the region?

4) What immediate tactics must be employed system-wide to address housing constraints, low educational attainment, infrastructure demands, and more?

It has been said that strategy without tactics is a daydream and tactics without strategy is a nightmare. And that could not be more apparent to SOREDI than it is right now. While the agency was created to help business launch, relocate and prosper in Southern Oregon, the job of focused and proactive economic development tactics belongs to all of us. We each have a job to do as we seek to make our region a thriving, vibrant place to live, raise our families and retire.

Soon, we expect to hire an experienced firm, TIP Strategies, to get started on intensive data analysis, stakeholder interviews and development of a Southern Oregon “Strategic Doing” Plan!

Is it expensive? Yes. Could the opportunity cost of doing nothing be even more expensive? Yes. Is there a lot of work to do that can be downright scary? Yes!

When we simply state our shared vision to be the “most business friendly region on the West Coast,” that is powerful; but when we start to move more stones to prove that we are wildly serious about business development in Southern Oregon, that will be catalytic and truly put our region on the map for new professionals, new companies, expanding local companies, and aspiring startups. Are you ready?

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