Rising to meet the challenges of economic development — Is coastal living in jeopardy? Part VII

From 2015 to the present, Florence pursues development of businesses, partnerships

In Part VI, Siuslaw News looked at local businesses and how local residents view jobs and the workforce. Now, in Part VII, read about efforts locally, regionally and statewide to promote Oregon’s economy.

“The state of our city is excellent because of the many difficult decisions and investments all of us have made in our community over the years,” Florence Mayor Joe Henry said in his first State of the City address in 2015. “Our future remains bright if we accept the challenges ahead and rise to meet them.”

In the three years that the current Florence City Council has worked together, the City of Florence has made economic development a key factor in the city’s goals.

Henry has lived in Florence for 18 years. In that time, he has owned a mortgage company and dive shop and traveled extensively with his wife, Pam. He also began to notice something about the city.

“Things just weren’t happening. There was no growth,” he said.

Henry was too late to make it on the ballot, but he conducted a write-in campaign and got elected to the Florence City Council. However, the council had a hard time working together, and Henry “didn’t see eye to eye” with then-mayor Nola Xavier. So he decided to run for mayor.

“The majority spoke when I was elected because I think people wanted to see some change,” Henry said.

Movement, then, is why Henry joined the council, and why, in February 2015, he declared proudly, “Look at us now, a city in motion.”

In that first year, Florence City Council took on seven main goals for its Five-Year Work Plan: deliver efficient and cost-effective city services; expand and diversify the Florence economy; improve the city’s livability and quality of life; sustain the city’s strong financial position; strengthen and improve organization; improve the city’s communication program and strengthen citizen trust; and improve the community’s safety and perception of safety.

“This council, we work together as a team,” Henry said. “Even though we have some widely varying political views, we have fought really hard to keep political agendas out.”

Early in their term, councilors approved the hiring of City Manager Erin Reynolds to lead city staff. Soon after, the city brought on Interim Finance Director Andy Parks and hired Police Chief Tom Turner.

“We’ve kind of been a city on hold for several years, with maintenance and parks and a number of other things, and now there is a whole new level of excitement in all our departments,” Henry said. “I haven’t done anything but provided a little guidance from my long career in business management and motivating and creating high-performance teams. That’s really why we have Erin and her staff.”

By June 2015, a new Public Art Committee and Economic Development Committee were active after the council worked with city staff to create committees with purpose.

“Both these committees will have some impact on economic development. That’s one of our major goals in 2015 and going forward,” Henry said. “It’s a long-term goal to create economic development in the City of Florence — to support and expand existing businesses and to recruit, develop and support new businesses that might come to town to provide living wage jobs.”

Many of Florence’s committees go hand-in-hand with economic development, including Florence Urban Renewal Agency and the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce’s Downtown Revitalization Team.

And the city kept moving. From road improvements to strengthened intergovernmental relationships, city staff continued to “place Florence on the map,” even increasing its social media presence.

“We must first create an economic development strategy and then sustain and improve that effort once created,” said Reynolds in a July 2015 update of the council’s goals.

In turn, Henry said that the city could see a definite improvement in interactions with city staff due, largely, to Reynolds.

“I’m sure everyone in the community has seen the improvement, positive attitude and amount of work that is getting done by the city staff, and I think that’s a reflection on her leadership,” Henry said.

In that September, Florence began work to attract developers to the area, from government partnerships to more regional solutions.

“You have to be working on all fronts, looking at all stages,” Reynolds said. “That was probably our biggest hurdle. We had to first plant before we could start showing our harvest.”

 At that time, Henry said he hoped to “attract some entities or companies that can create jobs that provide a living wage. That will allow people to buy a home, stay here and raise a family.”

Some of those struggles are ongoing — but some of their solutions remain the same.

The next month, Florence partnered with Eugene-based RAIN (Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network) to bring support to tech-based and traded sector entrepreneurs. This resource would be completely new to the area.

“They’re going to help us and show us how to do it,” Reynolds said. “I think we can go out and make this work. If we can get one business going because of it, it’s great.”

Henry agreed.

“What might work really well in Florence is that start-up, encouraging atmosphere for entrepreneurs and people who are innovative,” he said. “What we have as a resource are the mentors.”

Florence also began to expand its use of the slogan “Oregon’s Premier Coastal Community.”

According to Reynolds, this name defines Florence because it was successful in bringing in tourism to replace the resource-based economy of fishing and timber.

“(Our economy) won’t be like it was before,” she said. “And there are talents and resources left over that add to who we are today and what can work well here. … You have to create the environment that the mayor has by saying, ‘Hey, we’re here and we’re open to business.’”

Henry said, “Our job is to try to make Florence attractive and visible. We have to get out there and market Florence, so people in turn will come and get it done.

“I do think our city can grow, and can grow economically. We’re just getting started.”

In October 2015, RAIN began holding regular meetings in Florence. RAIN itself is a startup founded by the governor’s Regional Solutions Office to launch high-growth companies in the Lane, Linn, Lincoln and Benton county region.

Venture Catalyst Caroline Cummings said her job is to “catalyze other people’s innovations.”

“Oregon is really good at growing its own companies,” she said.

Job creation is one facet of a “three-legged stool” that economic development movements target. This also includes recruiting companies to move to the area, retaining and expanding existing businesses and bringing in entrepreneurs and innovation.

Reynolds said, “While we are very caring about our existing businesses ... this is really looking at how we can grow and encourage a new way of thinking.”

Florence Urban Renewal Agency retained Leland Consulting Group in 2015 to develop an economic opportunities strategy and to identify key development sites.

Chris Zahas, president of Leland Consulting Group, said, “I think you are in the pretty fortunate position that you have a lot of assets that are attractive. You have the ocean, river, lakes, an actual authentic vibrant downtown — with the restaurants and retailers as healthy as they are — and you’ve got the dunes. The list goes on and on of exciting things. If they’re marketed, packaged and presented well, they would make a really compelling case why a sole-proprietor business or small entrepreneur would think about Florence.”

He said that the economy is shifting to be more talent-based.

“We are depending on a knowledge-based economy, where ideas are driving our economy forward. The jobs are following the talent. What you need to be doing as a community is attracting the talent,” he said.


2016 — ‘What’s Next?’

January 2016 kicked off with a continued partnership with RAIN and its resources. With its motto being “What’s next?,” RAIN pulled in local entrepreneurs Carl Hulan, who wants to connect technology with the local foods market, and Jayne Smoley, a glass artist with an innovative idea to connect high art with low-cost, replaceable products.

“I believe that we live in an amazing time because technology enables us to build almost anything imaginable, so let’s get together to figure out our goals and how to achieve them,” Hulan said.

Throughout the year, RAIN partnered with the city, Lane Community College Florence Center and the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce. Meetings were held at City Lights Cinemas, Siuslaw Riverside Eats & Drinks, Homegrown Public House, Beachcomber Pub and Ocean Dunes Golf Links.

Also in January, Henry gave his next State of the City Address, this time to a crowd at the Florence Events Center.

“In my first State of the City Address, I told you of a great many things to come. It is deeply fulfilling to be able to say we have accomplished many, if not most, of the goals we presented last year,” Henry said. “A sneak peek into the City Council’s goals for 2016 will be a continuation of the 2015 goals in a more condensed and focused manner. We expect 2016 to be filled with staff activity focused on completing the work that was started.”

His address also encouraged the community to get involved.

Florence’s goals for 2016 were city service delivery; livability and quality of life; economic development; communication and trust; and financial and organizational sustainability.

In February, Florence Urban Renewal continued to move forward with what would later be called the ReVision Florence Streetscaping Project on Highway 101.

“We promised you a year ago that we would be a city in motion. I think especially recently you have seen that there are a whole lot of things going on in town, and some great ideas being planned,” Henry said.

Zahas, who, with Leland Consulting Group and Murray, Smith and Associates Civil Engineering, presented at the meeting, said, “We looked at Florence’s assets and strengths we can play off toward the goal of economic opportunity and development in the Urban Renewal District and the Old Town area. Tonight, we are translating those ideas into opportunities.”

The consulting groups wanted to focus on housing, employment and other revitalization goals by looking at businesses, culture, the Siuslaw Public Library, Florence City Hall, parks, public art and open spaces.

“We work in communities of all sizes and we usually see half the turnout in cities twice as big,” Zahas said of the 150 people who attended. “It’s a testament to your commitment to your city and what you see as the potential for Florence.”

Throughout 2016, city staff, councilors, committee members and the community worked to market Florence, develop a public art plan, maintain and improve parks and streets and begin pursuing a Coast Guard City designation.

Florence was also named the “most beautiful town” in America by Expedia.

In June, Lane County presented the Rural Prosperity Initiative, a program that will offer a coordinated support system that draws on local expertise, builds capacity and caters to the individual needs of rural communities. Lane County also budgeted for a county economic development liaison dedicated specifically to rural areas.

“We came to the conclusion that successful economic development emphasizes community development, capacity building and collaboration,” Hatfield Fellow Aniko Drlik-Muehleck said. “Economic development is not a standalone thing. It requires an entire community.”

Florence’s partners have been LCC and its Small Business Development Center, South Coast Development Council, Florence Area Chamber of Commerce, RAIN, Lane Council of Governments, Travel Lane County, Oregon Department of Transportation and more.

Florence City Councilor Joshua Greene said, “I’m just happy to hear that the county realizes the asset that we have to offer and the fact that we can help each other.”

That July, after Florence wrapped up the 109th annual Rhody Days and the annual Fourth of July celebration, both chamber events, new Chamber Executive Director Bettina Hannigan addressed Florence City Council. In 2015-16, the chamber brought in $2.3 million at its various events.

“Stable economic development, tourism, education and community all play a signature part of the chamber’s overall focus,” Hannigan said. “We can all agree that we want to see a city that brings opportunities for our families and our children.”

In August, State Sen. Arnie Roblan and State Rep. Caddie McKeown held their fifth annual Oregon Coastal Caucus Economic Summit in North Bend. The main takeaway for the Florence City Council was about housing and economic development, issues that affect much of Oregon’s coastal properties.

“Right now, the housing market is tight in Florence,” Henry said. “There’s a major demand that’s almost crisis proportion. And that’s both coast-wide and all over the state of Oregon.”

After a conversation with Siuslaw Outreach Services’ Bob Teter, Henry said, “Up and down the coast, we’re trying to get employers and help schools develop qualified trained workers. One of the obstacles we keep running into is, if we keep bringing these people into town, where are they going to live?”

Reynolds said looking at Florence’s city services may provide part of an answer.

“We’re in the business of providing a chance for businesses to thrive and grow here,” she said. “We’re committed to having a great street infrastructure system, providing a good quality of life for our people and being where people want to live and work. More importantly to economic development, we are committed to being a place you want to have your business. Whether it grows, stays or adds employees, we hope it brings new money into our community and increases the quality of life for everyone.”

The caucus also allowed Florence a moment to shine as Henry introduced the panel: “Small Town, Big Ideas: The Role of Eco Tourism, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.”

“The panel talked about Florence — and our small communities on the coast — and some of the small successes that we’ve had with economic development and tourism,” Henry said.

RAIN’s Cummings also presented during the panel.

“I had the opportunity to speak about our successes and how Florence has stepped up to be the first rural coastal community to implement a formal entrepreneurial partnership with RAIN,” she said.

RAIN sealed the partnership Nov. 1, 2016, with the hiring of David Youngentob as the coastal venture catalyst to work with Florence and Lincoln County startups. He had previously worked with rural communities and entrepreneur support groups, as well as being an entrepreneur who started his own traded-sector bio-science company.

“We decided that the coastal market needs a rigorous program. David will be looking at revamping our pre-accelerator course since there are differing needs on the coast,” Cummings said. “The intention is that entrepreneurs will feel certain they have a market for their product — and possibly even be selling by the time the course is complete.”

On Oct. 24, Oregon Economic Development Association awarded RAIN the Outstanding Collaborative Award in recognition of the work done to fuel the region’s economy through an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Also in November, Florence selected entrepreneur Jesse Dolin as the city’s economic development catalyst to focus on Florence’s 1,500 businesses and use staff time to pursue partnerships, grants and support economic development efforts.

“To have someone who can always say this is their priority — growth of our community — that’s an amazing thing that the Florence City Council decided to fund,” Reynolds said.

Dolin said, “I believe in connecting people to make things happen. … So much comes from collaboration and partnerships. It’s amazing what can happen when everyone rallies together to go after mutually beneficial game plans.”

Florence wrapped up 2016 with a council retreat.

Henry said, “A summary of the results achieved in 2016 reflected 155 action items in the work plan, with 101 of those marked ‘completed.’ … Florence truly is a ‘City in Motion’ and the momentum created by an outstanding 2016 will carry the city forward into 2017 and beyond.”


2017 — ‘That is the Future’

Momentum continued into 2017 as FURA began finalizing plans for ReVision Florence with the city and ODOT.

“We want cars to slow down and people to say, ‘Hey, look at this wonderful little town,’” FURA Chairman Greene said. “If we take Highway 101 and convert it into a more modern, pedestrian friendly boulevard, it will entice investment. … FURA, the city council and the mayor believe that this can also start economic investment and development. We want to bring Old Town up to Highway 101. That is the future.”

Florence worked on several projects throughout the year, including planning the Florence City Hall remodel, which should begin January 2018, completing the Rhody Drive Shoulder Expansion Project and transitioning to a biannual budget.

Florence Finance Director Parks said the city’s focus on five-year forecasting created a cultural environment that would facilitate moving to biannual budgeting.

Reynolds said, “We have found a lot of our city projects end up being 18 to 24 months long. We have been administering and planning for that long. Administratively, it feels like we are doing it already.”

On Feb. 6, Florence City Council approved its latest City Work Plan to include elements of the new biannual budget cycles.

Reynolds described the document as “robust” and said it showed validation for the city’s work plan objectives.

“With that, we are always in motion, and we’re always thinking of how to be better and work faster or be more efficient,” Reynolds said.

Councilor Susy Lacer, “We have a lot of disruptions going on around our city, — bumpy roads, construction, detours and a fair number of inconveniences — but that’s what happens when you are ‘A City in Motion’ with our goals and very ambitious work plan. These are temporary disruptions on the road to becoming the kind of community that we all want it to be.”

For Lacer, those disruptions were part of the progress the city underwent, including improved water flow thanks to work done by Florence Public Works and new paint on Rhododendron Drive, between Ninth and Hemlock streets, to mark two six-foot bike lanes.

In March, FURA and Florence City Council voted to continue to pursue ReVision Florence, even after the project’s totals reached $7.4 million.

FURA Director Mike Webb said, “I moved to Florence in 1988. (ODOT) had just widened Highway 101 north of Highway 126. A lot of things changed after that. The investment was made and it dramatically changed the town. Sometimes you have an opportunity to do something.”

FURA Director Patricia Riley added, “If we do this right, the long-term benefits will be huge. This is the kind of thing that (urban renewal) investment dollars should be spent on.”

March also saw the visit of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to Florence. More than 35 people, representatives from Port of Siuslaw, City of Florence, Florence Area Chamber of Commerce, RAIN, and Florence Regional Arts Alliance(FRAA) joined Brown to hear about the area’s economic vitality and recent efforts to increase development, create partnerships with regional organizations, improve infrastructure and more.

“I’m certainly committed to moving Oregon forward,” Brown said. “We’ve made incredible progress over the past couple years and I want to make sure we continue that forward march. Oregon is a place where everyone can thrive.”

After tours to the Siuslaw River Bridge Interpretive Center and the FRAA Art Center in Historic Old Town, as well as Top Hydraulics at the Pacific View Business Park and more, Brown said, “This is a place that truly has that innovative spirit.”

Brown also held an informational town hall at Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue Station No. 1.

One attendee said, “I would also like to encourage everyone to come up with solutions. This one person cannot answer all the questions.”

Brown answered, “What I love about Oregon is we are truly a state of entrepreneurs and innovators, and you are so right. I can’t do this alone. Mayor Joe can’t do this on his own. ... This is definitely a team effort.”

She added, “I’m falling in love with this little town. We just really appreciate everything you’re doing to move this city and the region forward. ... I look forward to working with you as we make this region a place where everyone can thrive and open the doors of opportunity.”

Last May, Florence Economic Development Catalyst Dolin reported that the city has started to see fruit from a long period of sowing into new and expanding businesses.

“Florence really does care about this community,” he said. “This is a unique town, where everyone feels connected and wants to be a part of the city being as vibrant as possible. It is a place where a healthy business and a healthy lifestyle can go hand in hand.”

Between 2016-17, three businesses purchased lots at Pacific View Business Park. Top Hydraulics, owned by Klaus and Maria Witte, was the first.

“This business is going to provide jobs for the community and provide more of a tax base to improve the city,” Maria said. “We are moving forward in a way that is responsible to the community, the city and the land, and also to encourage growth here.”

According to Klaus, everyone, from the Florence Planning Department to area contractors, made the experience a good move for his business, which rebuilds hydraulic parts for more than 30 brands of modern convertible vehicles. It is a niche market located in Florence that ships all over the world.

Maria said, “You see construction going on around town. It's not just road construction, but buildings and things happening and new business. It's exciting, this momentum.”

In June, RAIN held a showcase for its 11 Coastal Pre-Accelerator startups from Lane and Lincoln counties. Pre-Accelerators began in March in Florence and Lincoln City, with six entrepreneurs attending the Florence group and five attending Lincoln City. Each cohort covered a range of topics including marketing and sales, financials and business modeling, and pitching and fundraising. They addressed these topics through seminars and workshops, group and one-on-one mentoring, one-page business plans and more.

Coastal Venture Catalyst Youngentob said, “RAIN helps startup ventures that are being founded here on the coast launch and grow their businesses faster so they can reach customers all over country, and potentially the world. With our partners, we’ve been administering a three-month boot camp for startup founders. These people are your neighbors that you probably already know. These are folks that are trying to launch a company from scratch.”

On July 10, City of Florence signed official intergovernmental agreements (IGA) with ODOT and FURA for ReVision Florence. It is the first time ODOT has recognized an urban renewal agency with an IGA.

“What we’re pulling off with this ReVision involves a lot of moving parts, a lot of partnerships and something new,” said Greene. “What we are doing as a community is something that has not been done in the state in the way that we’re doing it. A lot of eyeballs are watching, some hopeful and some tentative. This is really a methodology that other small, rural communities can embrace in the future.”

Reynolds agreed, saying, “It is very exciting to be making history with ODOT.”

In August, Florence became the 24th Coast Guard City in America.

U.S. Coast Guard 13th District Commander Rear Admiral David Throop presided. He said, “It is great to be here to honor the City of Florence, which has had a 100-year relationship with your U.S. Coast Guard. I knew I was coming into a special place when I saw those American flags flying. It has continued to get more special every passing minute as I spent a little more time here and had the chance to meet some of you.”

From April to September, the Housing and Economic Opportunities Project (HEOP) and Planning Director Wendy FarleyCampbell sought to provide “hope for housing” with a survey and several community meetings. HEOP’s survey is the first survey on housing that Florence has undertaken since 2002.

“Rent is too high, and home payments are too high,” she said. “When people cannot afford to live where they work, the entire community suffers.”

Local governments, including Lane County and Florence, are taking steps to address the rural housing crisis, as are community organizations.

“The city did this study to hopefully effect some code changes and policy implementation to make housing affordable to build, rent and develop,” FarleyCampbell said. “It’s going to help business owners bring and retain employees because they would have a place to rent that is safe, clean and healthy, and have more options to buy.”

In October, Florence City Council heard updates from RAIN and other economic development successes. At that time, Reynolds detailed progress in the Pacific View Business Park and more connections with partner agencies.

“Economic development is multi-faceted. It takes many partners,” she said. “I’m happy to say you end up creating good, lifelong connections with people that will bear fruit down the line. It’s really exciting to be a part of it.”

Also in 2017, Central Lincoln PUD completed its $6 million Florence-area Electric System Upgrade; LCC Florence Center selected Russ Pierson as dean; FURA passed its own biannual budget; Florence Area Chamber of Commerce got a new president in Bobby Jensen; Siuslaw Broadband, doing business as Hyak, began installing a fiber optic network in and around the Pacific View Business Park; Florence Public Art Committee began installing public art in Gallagher’s Park; Friends of the Florence Events Center received a Cultural Development Capacity Grant totaling $30,800 for theater lighting and sound equipment upgrades; Florence Public Works moved into its new location and more development happened with ongoing projects.

In looking over the past three years, Reynolds said, “We as a city are certainly not a ‘be all, end all.’ While we may be seen as an obstacle or a resource to people, we can’t solve all problems. We certainly can’t do it on our own. We may have been able to get out of the way and help some of our businesses, but they still run into other challenges. Working alongside them and finding out what those challenges are, we can connect them to Lane Workforce Partnership, LCC or whatever that next resource is.”

She said that Henry and Florence City Council led Florence’s charge in going out and getting stuff done, both in regard to partnerships and economic development.

“Every member of our team, all the way from the bottom of the administration to the top, is out there planting seeds,” she said. “Maintaining, watering, fertilizing, trimming, picking, weeding, all those things. We’re also checking if we’re doing too much or need to pare back. We evaluate all those things. By becoming ‘A City in Motion,’ we’re trying to fulfill our own prophecy. We want to be showing action and planning.”

Henry said that the past years have led to “awesome relationships” with state, county and other partners, as well as more public notice of Florence as a city.

One group leading that is the chamber’s Downtown Revitalization Team, which drew national attention by applying for the third season of Deluxe Corporation’s “Small Business Revolution — Main Street” TV series. Florence is now in the top 10 potential cities.

Reynolds said, “It’s all about community members buying in and believing in this community, and championing that effort. For us to come alongside and support that means we might get $500,000, which will be money invested into this community, to local contractors, businesses and banks.”

Henry said, “It’s been my experience that when you’re not doing very much, not very much happens. When you begin to do a lot of things, then a lot of other things increase exponentially.

“You’ll be very pleased with some of the things you’ll see in the next 90 days.”

“You’ll be very pleased with some of the things you’ll see in the next 90 days.”

Note: This is part 7 of a 9 part series. Find additional installments in the Special Series Archive, located here.