Notes from Colleen’s Desk: Speechless in Southern Oregon

I sometimes find myself speechless. Some might call that… shocking.

I really do not have the words to express the angst that we feel here at SOREDI with the latest announcement from our governor with news of yet more measures to curb the virus. The impact to our economy is sobering.

From the onset of these bi-monthly “Notes from Colleen’s Desk” writings, our objective has been to keep you informed of what SOREDI is doing behind the scenes. The good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly, with most of our focus on the good. Clearly we could all rightfully agree that right now things seem ugly. But stand by and I will get to some “amazing” shortly.

I often find uncanny professional parallels in my personal adventures and meanderings and share my personal perspective. Sometimes my aim is to truly provide comic relief (because we desperately need it right now!) and illustrate the presence of my own humanity in this thing called economic development.

For example, my car’s odometer recently rolled over the 40,000 miles mark. I should be thinking about new tires. Instead, my mind immediately went to the significance of the number 40  – like how the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness! Sounds a bit like present day, huh?

Backing up just a bit, SOREDI rolled out our updated strategy leading to a staff restructure about one year ago. We needed to beef up our business development and retention  activities – primarily in traded-sector industries.  Our consultant suggested we should plan for a cyclical downturn in the economy.  Gasp– I am right there with you!

For those who may be new to that ‘traded-sector’ jargon, this means SOREDI is traditionally focused on companies that are wealth generators for our region. These are typically manufacturers, tech companies, and larger employers whose customers and revenues are primarily derived from outside the region.

Southern Oregon benefits from traded-sector companies as they create new wealth that circulates within our local economy. Traded-sector companies also require higher skill sets in their employees and thus pay higher wages. They create primary jobs in the economy that support secondary jobs in retail, service, and other sectors.

So one year ago we got serious about a staff change-up with the hiring of two additional business development managers, who joined the SOREDI team in January and February.  But then that thing we do not even like to give voice to (starts with a p and ends with andemic) began to plague our economy like a house guest on day two. It dramatically changed-up our daily schtick, to say the least.

SOREDI, not unlike most of our business community, took precautionary measures and downsized our budget; we anticipated revenue decreases of 20%. We held off on filling one open position and put on our creative thinking hats for events so that we could still provide meaningful content and connections virtually (alas, this is an oxymoron). No need here to go into much detail – because we know you are living the same dream, which you may choose to aptly call a nightmare right now.

Let’s just skip past the good, the bad, and the ugly though and get to the amazing part that is a fundamental component as to why I am speechless. It has nothing to do with the mute button.

It has everything to with finding peace in difficult circumstances and pressing on. Doing the best you can with what you have. Most of the staff has worked remotely for 9 months and turned on a dime to respond in timely, relevant ways, leading us to adapt critical technologies and administer various grant  programs for businesses.

In a typical year, we make 125-150 face-to-face outreach calls to traded-sector businesses. But in the last 5 weeks, we have received and reviewed nearly 550  applications from hurting businesses we do not normally interface with. This does not count another 300 or so small business contacts made June through October.

Small business and personal stories of dire hardship. Whether over the phone, via email or between the lines of the hundreds of profit and loss statements we have reviewed in the application process, we have clearly heard uncertainty and pain.

 The good. Last week Josephine County approved grant awards to 38 businesses to the tune of $1.2 million. Next week, Jackson County will award about $2.4 million to nearly 100 businesses.  Every application was touched by at least two staff members and after we received approval to award these grant from the respective county, the businesses were verified by at least two other individuals.

The bad. It has been hard, tireless work. Yet, the passion, extra hours (including weekends and holidays) and cheerful countenance of the entire staff – despite a host of personal trials and family losses over several months – has been a huge blessing. I find it truly amazing. And I once again I will say that I am speechless.

In the words of one staff member reminiscing on her father’s legacy “SOREDI has given me a way to live out my professional and personal life to the fullest.”  Her father Jim’s life work captured in 12 words?  Find a need and fill it. Find a heart and heal it. Surely these are good words to live by as venture into 2021.

The ugly. The amount of award money to distribute pales in comparison to the need demonstrated already. The dire need will surely rear its ugly head for several months to come. There are no words that can calm a business owner’s spirit when we must inform them that we are unable to assist with a financial award that might very well keep them from closing permanently.  And yet, so many have expressed gratitude, sincerity, and hope – despite their storm. We are all left speechless.

I feel like we are all in the wilderness. And it is not the same wilderness that I like to hike all summer long!

Curious about the significance of being in the wilderness? Look it up  online and you will find that it is astonishingly similar to present day Southern Oregon.  The wilderness is described as a “locale for intense experiences—of stark need for food and water, of isolation, of danger and divine deliverance, of renewal, and of encounters with God.”

And here we are on Christmas Eve.  I am seeking divine deliverance and an encounter with God. You?

Whatever your political persuasion, your position, your personal faith, your passion – I hope you find yourself speechless as you ponder the true meaning of Christmas.  May your holiday be blessed with peace and hope.

 

Speechless,

 Colleen Padilla, Executive Director

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