If Douglas County were Popeye, the Umpqua Economic Development Partnership would be his spinach. The organization has worked aggressively to pump up the local economy in a number of different ways focusing on their main goal — “Growing our own for Douglas County.”

“By identifying the needs of our community and facilitating strategic partnerships to address those needs, the Partnership is positioned to greatly improve the quality of life in of Douglas County,” a statement according to the website.

Executive Director of the Partnership, Wayne Patterson, has been in the position for about two years and has been moving at 100 mph since he started.

“We are at a time right now that it isn’t just about someone with a vision, it is a time with change,” Patterson said.

He added that helping businesses grow is the most fun for him and feels it is a fortunate opportunity to be here, be in the position he’s in, helping the community.

According to Patterson, the first nine months he was in the position it was primarily going out and trying to understand what the community needs were.

“I needed to see where we’ve been, where we are and see where we need to go,” he said. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, it is good to see what assets are already here. When I got here, they spent so much time trying to get businesses to come to Roseburg — like it is a secret sauce that will come in and solve our problems. We need to learn how to grow our own.”

After establishing the mission, a strategic plan was set in motion under six main priority pillars: education including K-12 and Umpqua Community College; entrepreneurial development; workforce; events; branding; and retention, recruitment, and expansion.

Education & Workforce

The Partnership has formed a strong relationship with educational leaders in the community, narrowing in on K-12 in an effort to get young children starting to think about their career path and build work force development.

“As kids enter junior high and high school, they haven’t thought about career paths and what they are interested in. They are saying now that we need to start thinking about career paths in grade school – not that they are going to decide, but create ideas in their head of levels of interest,” said Patterson.

One way they are prompting those ideas are by career cards — authentic-looking baseball cards packaged in six different career paths and with six jobs pertaining to that path on the cards inside. The cards will explain a job including requirements and are all based on Douglas County opportunities with current-day pay for that specific job.

“The idea was to have something fun, send them home with kids, they can mix and match,” Patterson said.

From there, students can inquire for more information at the domain listed on the card. As a student goes to that website, analytics are set up where the Partnership and the Douglas County Educational Service District can gauge where the levels of career interest are specific to the county’s own students in real time.

Patterson said that after these analytics are gathered and they see where there is interest, they can then beef up those school programs.

“This gives us a baseline to start from that we’ll continue to develop. The idea is to create these cookie cutter models based on real-time data – real jobs in Douglas County. We aren’t taking our kids down a pathway that at the end of it doesn’t have a career pathway locally,” said Patterson.

The cards will be handed out to all junior high school students at the beginning of 2019.

Another project is with Umpqua Community College and involves updating their welding program and other aspects of workforce development. The Partnership is also working on projects including a Career and Technical Education building, an Allied Mental Health College, a portal for employers to post jobs for high school students, and more.

“These are our kids — let’s get them in our jobs,” Patterson said. “Let’s grow our own.”

Events

Patterson has spent a lot of time in the last couple years establishing a relationship with Roger Lee, CEO of Economic Development for Central Oregon. When Deschutes County saw an end to their main industry of logging in the early 1980s, it switched its focus to tourism. The county now leads the state in projected job growth and is overall one of the fastest growing economies in the nation.

Patterson said in his talks with Lee, he learned a key element to their growing region — events. Thus, the Partnership made events a priority for Douglas County and plans to expand the amount of events each year.

“The idea of events is synergistic – people come together for common goals, and it brings people in from the outside. Gets people to come in and experience what we have,” said Patterson.

The Partnership organized their first event last year — The Great Umpqua Food Truck Competition. After a successful first year, they held the event again this past Fourth of July with the addition of the Battle of the Bands. The event again drew crowds — bringing the community together as well as those from outside the county.

Patterson said the Partnership plans to add one new event each year, adding to the ones already established. This year the Partnership is hosting The Great Umpqua Outdoor Days on Labor Day weekend.

The multi-event weekend will highlight all the county has to offer with bike rides, tournaments, exhibits, demonstrations, craft beer, award-winning wine, music, art, local food and more.

The highlight event, Saturday, Sept. 1, is the Nutcracker Race — a 60-mile vigorous North Umpqua Trail climb that is invitation-only, hosting approximately 50 pros brought in by Mudslinger Events. That evening at Stewart Park will be an after-race bash open to the public with race videos, beer tastings, food, and awards.

“Our ultimate idea is economic vitality – the real growth comes from money from the outside in. They experience where we live, hopefully like it, come and start a business, get one of our jobs, stay in our hotels. It is not about creating new jobs completely, but filling our jobs. How do we grow? How to we create more profit? Events are one of those arms, “ Patterson said.

The other pillars — such as retention, recruitment and expansion, branding, and entrepreneurial development — involve just as much muscle from the Partnership as they are constantly developing relationships and looking for avenues to explore together toward growth. Some of these other projects include pub talks, a food trail map, working with the wine industry, and talking with companies that want to relocate.

Not only does Patterson say he has a very strong team he is working with, but that the Partnership has seen enormous support, aligning resources and energy to grow our own and build a Douglas County brand that builds a bridge into the future.

“It took me awhile to figure out creating new jobs isn’t our problem, filling them is – so that is our goal. I want to be responsive to community needs. We need to respond what the community needs as they need its, to be reactive – what our community needs us to do for them,” said Patterson.

Brittany Arnold can be reached at 541-957-4210 or barnold@nrtoday.com.

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