Predictably, we are frequently asked if we can share new companies or industries we are pursuing to bring to the area. Courting companies that are interested in Southern Oregon – and are a good fit for our region – has been a core function of SOREDI since we were established in 1987.
In fact, it was the driving argument for a handful of regional and influential business leaders who doggedly built the case for a regional organization to be formed to represent not just one community, but the entire region. They impressed upon the hearts and minds of our founding fathers – Jackson County, Josephine County, the City of Grants Pass and the City of Medford – that there was strength in a unified recruitment approach for the region. We would all benefit by streamlining efforts, and leverage greater exposure for Southern Oregon among national site selectors and companies seeking to expand or relocate their operations to the West Coast.
But not just any company. Rather, traded-sector companies. Our focus on the traded-sector goes beyond our efforts to attract and recruit the next great company; it also influences the 125-plus outreach calls we make each year, and the type of entrepreneurs we seek to help scale up into a successful venture.
The bottom-line mission underlying our efforts to help companies launch, relocate, and prosper in Southern Oregon, continues to be the creation and retention of traded-sector jobs. Historically, this is the key metric that nearly every economic development agency in the nation – all 30,000 such organizations – uses for success. While all work is honorable and every job is an important facet in our economy, we are most interested in higher wage, traded-sector jobs.
Okay. So I’ve said “traded-sector” four times now. What does that term mean exactly?
Traded-sector refers to companies that are wealth generators for a community or region. That is, the majority of their customers are located outside our region and thus the revenues earned through sales of their products or services also come from outside the area. This circulates new money around in our local economy. Traded-sector companies are primarily manufacturers and technology companies who require higher skillsets in their employees and thus pay higher wages. They create the kinds of jobs in the economy that support other jobs in retail, service and other sectors.
So back to the top: to recruit or not recruit?
We are often asked how we divide our resources and time between recruitment of outside companies and retaining existing businesses in our region. Our answer doesn’t change all that dramatically from year to year. Sixty-five to 75% of our time is dedicated to outreach and assistance to existing companies in the region; we want to keep and ensure that our current customers (traded-sector companies) are thriving right here.
There are only so many outside recruitment/expansion projects in any given year. We receive 20-25 incoming inquiries from companies considering relocating each year, and we respond to all of them. If the region successfully lands two or three small new projects in a year, we consider that a win. Braun Brush and Rogue Valley Precast are two such projects in the past year. Currently, we are on the short list for two new projects representing nearly $150 million in prospective new investments in the region. Together, these projects may provide 150 jobs.
Currently, we are more overtly focused on business retention, due to the unusually low employment rate and the fact that nearly every traded-sector and retail business that exists in our region is struggling to fill open positions. The most critical factor to any company – whether it exists here already or is considering Southern Oregon for its next base of operations – is a skilled workforce.
If our existing companies are not finding the talent they need, how can we logically expect to recruit another company that would compete for those same workers? Built into the question about workforce capacity growth – whether recruitment or retention – are several other key constraints we need to address such as housing, workforce development, infrastructure, available industrial lands, and more.
Economic development is complex. It is not simply a matter of sending a flashy marketing piece to companies based elsewhere and inviting them to relocate here. It is a lot harder to convince one new company to choose Southern Oregon and create 100 new jobs than it is to help 50 existing local companies add two jobs each (see the previous paragraph). When the time is right to focus more resources and time on attracting new companies, we want to put our best foot forward and demonstrate that we have the right people with the right skills who are ready to do the work.
Right now, we are aiming to deepen our knowledge about the key industries that already exist here through expanded research and outreach. Moreover, we expect to discover the best targeted and emerging industry sectors to pursue with focused attraction and recruitment tactics. It is part of the soon-to-be-released updated regional strategy. You can join us for the unveiling and learn how you can play a role in helping Southern Oregon become the most business-friendly region on the West Coast. Register now to secure your seat at the Regional Strategy Rollout & Lunch.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into understanding the importance of traded-sector jobs in an economy, you can view a helpful whiteboard video posted by our economic development counterpart in Bend.
Colleen Padilla, Executive Director