Council hears economic development update

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Economic Development Catalyst Alysia Rodgers and Community Development Director Kelly Hart presented an annual economic development update Wednesday, Feb. 9, to the Lebanon City Council.
The city hired Rodgers in 2019 in response to the Lebanon 2040 Vision, which included a goal to improve local jobs and growth. When she started, the city offered the Downtown Building Restoration Program, an interest loan to downtown businesses for facade improvements. Only Treml’s Jewelry took advantage initially.
One of Rodgers’ first tasks was to revamp the program. One way, she said, was through microgrants, to which a number of businesses responded. The Kuhn Theatre, for example, used one to restore its neon lights.
“Since then, we’ve had a very robust program,” Rodgers said.
When COVID-19 took the world by storm in 2020, businesses shifted their models around government constraints, offering outdoor dining, among other things, she said. As personal protective equipment and grants became available, Rodgers found it difficult to identify all local businesses to inform them of the resources. By 2021, they had settled into the new norm around the coronavirus, and Rodgers began identifying the city’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).
“Lebanon has never had an economic development program,” Hart said. “You’ve had people in Lebanon who have worked on economic development, (and) one of the previous city managers was a key member in trying to drive an economic development, but we haven’t ever had an economic development program where we’ve done a full evaluation of the SWOT and develop a work program out of that to efficiently and effectively move the city forward,”.
Rodgers found several constraints during the analysis. These barriers to local economic development include wetlands, available resources, business connections and support. Then she identified resources for solutions to such issues.
Mayor Paul Aziz asked about a wetlands inventory initiated by city staff a couple of years ago. Rodgers replied that one was completed on three of Lebanon’s larger sites. Solutions were researched, but their costs were too high. However, she said, she’ll explore other opportunities.
Rodgers will continue working on the SWOT analysis for 2022 and building the economic development program.
“There’s a lot that we’re doing, but they fall into buckets of priority, into an overall system we’re creating,” Hart said. “There needs to be a community touch, there needs to be a business touch, and Alysia is the face of that.”
She added that a regional approach was also necessary, to bring attention to the region.
Councilors Jason Bolen, Wayne Dykstra, Gamael Nassar, Wayne Rieskamp, Michelle Steinhebel and Kim Ullfers were present at the meeting.
In other business, the council:
♦ Heard Lebanon Downtown Association manager Cassie Cruze’s presentation on 2021 outcomes and 2022 goals;
♦ Adopted an ordinance establishing a non-exclusive franchise for CenturyTel of Oregon, doing business as CenturyLink;
♦ Accepted a $55,000 Department of Land Conservation and Development grant for the development of an economic opportunity analysis.