MYRTLE CREEK — About 30 community leaders, business owners and other residents gathered at the Myrtle Creek Community Center Thursday evening to offer their insight into the community’s future economic success.

This was the first of three meetings in the Rural Development Initiatives’ (RDI) Economic Vitality Roadmap program to improve the local economy through an action plan.

“I’m excited about this project,” said Myrtle Creek-Tri City Area Chamber of Commerce President Paulette Jones. “It’s the first step to help us get in the right direction.”

The Chamber, City of Myrtle Creek and Oregon Main Street teamed up to sponsor the program, which is meant to help not only the Myrtle Creek-Tri City area, but the entire community covered in the 97457 zip code.

RDI’s Rural Economic Vitality Director Mary Bosch presented an economic assessment, based on statistics and perceptions from community members.

Bosch said the area, with a population of 9,867, has a diverse, healthy workforce and most businesses employ only one to four employees.

“Manufacturing is still the bread and butter of Douglas County’s economy,” Bosch said. Other top industries include service occupations, transportation, management and business, sales and office occupations and natural resources, construction and maintenance.

With $213 million spent by visitors in the county in 2014, the tourism industry is gaining strength.

“There are lots of opportunities for Myrtle Creek to continue to grow and advance its tourist base as a key economic sector,” Bosch said.

The estimated unemployment rate of 7.1 percent for March is low for Myrtle Creek, and 83 percent of the population over 16 has a high school diploma or higher. South Umpqua High School has a graduation rate of 72 percent, which is higher than the state average.

After the presentation, the attendees discussed the assessment and began to brainstorm priorities for action.

“What does it take to be economically vital?” Bosch asked. “It’s never one thing.”

They called for beautifying downtown properties, advertising local businesses online and getting the word out that Myrtle Creek is just off Interstate 5.

Nicky Ripley, owner of WalkAbout Hooves, would like to see more opportunities to connect students with local businesses “to really help educate young people and have people want to stay here because there’s something here to stay for.”

The participants also discussed how to market Myrtle Creek as a brand with a common identity, and how to maintain a successful economy while keeping its safe, friendly and small-town atmosphere.

Bosch also invited a guest speaker, Dan Varcoe of La Pine, to share about his experience with Economic Vitality Roadmap. Varcoe, now a program coordinator for RDI, said the program helped his community focus in on a few specific and realistic objectives.

“Put the Shine on La Pine,” became the motto for community members to market the town and make it more presentable to tourists.

Varcoe said this new vision was a “big breath of fresh air” for the area, and it helped the community get organized with common goals.

Mayor of Myrtle Creek Ken Brouillard said the presentation brought up several things he wasn’t aware of, including the high percentage of advanced-degree graduates in the area.

“I’m encouraged by the employment rate and the tourism money being spent,” Brouillard added.

“What I’m hoping for is the greater cooperation between all the stakeholders and people who have vested interest in the community as a whole,” he said, calling for people from the entire 97457 zip code area to work together.

RDI and the steering committee of local leaders plans to send out a survey to gather more feedback. At the next meeting, slated for 5:30 p.m. May 16 at the Community Center, attendees will identify their top priorities for immediate action.

Reporter Emily Hoard can be reached at 541-957-4217 or ehoard@nrtoday.com. Or follow her on Twitter @hoard_emily.

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Outdoors and Natural Resources Reporter

Emily Hoard is the business, outdoors and natural resources reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4217 or by email at ehoard@nrtoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoard_emily.

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