Roseburg contributes $50,000 annually to a group formed to recruit employers to Douglas County, and a question has been raised: What has the city reaped from its investment?
The City Council heard a report Monday on the activities of The Partnership for Economic Development in Douglas County. The routine update by Partnership Executive Director Alex Campbell turned into a discussion about the group’s performance.
The Partnership recruited one business last year, to Drain. The Partnership hasn’t recruited a company to Roseburg since Dell Computer Corp. in 2002, said Campbell, who became director in 2011.
Councilman Tom Ryan gave The Partnership and Campbell a “failing grade.”
“As far as it relates to Roseburg, nothing is coming in here,” Ryan said. “We’re not getting any new businesses or new jobs out of this.”
The Partnership is a public-private group that since 2000 has tried to bolster and diversify Douglas County’s economy by recruiting businesses and retaining ones already here. Campbell said most of his time is spent on retention. He said the economy has made it tough to attract new companies.
Big recruitments included Dell and American Bridge in Reedsport. Dell shut down in 2007, and American Bridge closed in October.
Since Campbell was hired, The Partnership has recruited two companies. PureBulk Inc., which sells nutritional supplements over the Internet, opened in Green in 2011. Last year, Malcolm Drilling, a California-based provider of foundation drilling services, purchased the North Douglas Wood Products Building in Drain.
Councilman Marty Katz also said he wasn’t pleased with the results. “Do you think that’s good?” he asked Campbell. “I agree with Tom. I don’t think that’s something to write home about.”
Campbell said Roseburg’s rural location and workforce limit the city’s ability to recruit businesses.
“There is a strong desire that we want to do more. There is pain in the local economy and, clearly, we all want to do better, and we want to see more,” Campbell said.
Campbell brought up a study The Partnership is doing to see whether a school to train workers for health care jobs could be opened in the Roseburg area. Campbell said a decision should be made by this spring.
No other councilor joined in the criticism, nor did any councilor come to Campbell’s defense. There was no suggestion the city will consider ending its participation in The Partnership.
Ryan said in an interview that he doesn’t have advice for The Partnership, but said the council should ask whether it can be more effective.
“It may be the best that we can do, but I want to make sure,” Ryan said. “Economic development is always a concern when we are paying an organization a contract, and you want to make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck.”
Before the Partnership’s inception, the city, Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Douglas County Industrial Development Board and CCD Business Development Corp. had separate economic development initiatives. The groups came together and formed The Partnership to share resources rather than compete against each other, Roseburg Community Development Director Brian Davis said.
Roseburg at first contributed $30,000 a year, but increased its support to $50,000 in 2004. That’s one-quarter of The Partnership’s budget. Douglas County is another large contributor, giving $95,000 a year.
Eighteen other members contribute.
It’s not all about getting new companies to come to Douglas County. Campbell said keeping businesses here takes most of his time.
He said the group has 115 businesses it visits every 12 to 18 months to see if it can help with expansions, employee training and other activities that would help keep the doors open.
About 60 percent of the businesses are in central Douglas County, whose workers live and shop in Roseburg, Campbell said.
The Partnership last year helped Swanson Group expand in Glendale and train workers in Roseburg.
Davis said Campbell has helped many small businesses open, move or expand, including Backside Brewery in the 1600 block of Northeast Odell Avenue.
Brewery owner K.C. McKillip said Campbell was an advocate for rezoning the area to allow more types of businesses, including his brewery. Campbell is now helping McKillip negotiate for a temporary occupancy permit to allow the business to operate while McKillip gets the older building up to code.
“He’s definitely helping me out right now, and he really has been an awesome help in the past,” McKillip said. “It’s been a good experience.”
Davis said Campbell’s good relationships with existing businesses and helping them thrive is what matters.
“Getting a new business into town would be great, but watching out for the ones we have is more important,” he said.
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.