Oregon Gov. Kate Brown paid Prineville a visit on Thursday, hosting a public forum and touring several local facilities.
The visit, which was publicly announced the prior day, began with a trip to the Facebook data center, where Brown took a tour of the facility, and later concluded with visits to the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge facility and the IronHorse senior housing lodge.
Between those tours, Brown held an hour-long public forum at the Crook County Open Campus building. Despite the short notice, about 40 people attended the session, including several local government officials and representatives from the business community.
Much of the session dealt with economic matters, as Brown opened the door to such discussions during her opening remarks.
"We know that the economy is going quite well in our urban centers, and we also know that it is still struggling in rural Oregon," Brown said. "I am committed to figuring out how we continue to grow good-paying jobs across the state. There are a handful of things we are focused on that I think could help do this, but I also want to hear from you today about the things we could be doing."
The audience took Brown up on her offer as Crook County Economic Development Manager Caroline Ervin and Greg Lambert, president of Mid Oregon Personnel, each took the floor.
"Some of what is happening legislatively is a cause for concern, specifically issues surrounding employment and taxation, which will likely impede our ability to retain companies and attract new ones," she said.
Ervin expressed concern about potential changes to the enterprise zone program, a tax abatement program on property improvements that has helped lure such companies as Facebook and Apple to Prineville.
"That is one of the most valuable programs we have in our toolbox and I think one of the most useful to the state," she said. "If we were, for example, to require prevailing wage for enterprise zone projects, that actually would turn an incentive into a disincentive and kill any investments and associated job creation that we would have in Prineville and Crook County."
In addition, Ervin asked the governor to help improve the process and timeline associated with acquiring property owned by the Department of State Lands.
"Our experience in working with that agency is it does not move at the speed of business," she said. "It is prohibitive to development."
Lambert spoke out against the minimum wage law, telling Brown it is a cost to employers that has resulted in fewer workers ages 18 and younger. He also criticized the sick leave law, calling in poorly written and indecipherable.
"For example, the rules state that most temporary staffing companies are the responsible employer for sick leave," he said. "Who is 'most'?"
Lambert also pointed out that the law provides employees up to 40 hours per year of sick leave, which can usually be taken without notice.
"That means a business with 10 employees can be shorthanded up to 400 times per year, without notice," he said.
Education needs took center stage during the forum as well. Matt McCoy, COCC's vice president for administration, highlighted the partnership between Crook County and the community college as the parties developed the Open Campus facility. Later, Crook County School District Superintendent Duane Yecha advocated for longer school years as well as more state emphasis on career and technical education.
Funding for veterans was also broached and resulted in a bit of debate as Crook County Judge Seth Crawford questioned Brown on how much funding from Measure 96 would remain in the Oregon Department of Veterans Association budget.
Crawford stated that when Measure 96 passed during the 2016 general election, it was expected to provide the ODVA an additional $9.2 million this biennium. However, when Brown released her proposed budget, it appeared that roughly the same amount of money would be removed from that budget.
In response, Brown said that her budget proposed a 100 percent increase to the ODVA and that the legislative budget proposed a 138 percent increase. She could not recall the dollar amount of either increase.
"Our goal was to fully implement the intent of Ballot Measure 96," she said. "We in Oregon have really struggled to make sure that our veterans receive their benefits. So I think we've got to do a better job coordinating to make sure the veterans get the serves that they need, and making sure they get the wraparound services."
Seeking specific dollar amounts, Crawford again questioned whether the ODVA budget would see a $9.2 million increase as a result of Measure 96. Brown again repeated that her budget proposal would increase the ODVA budget by 100 percent and the legislative budget would boost funds by 138 percent.
"It was unfortunate that the governor was unwilling to confirm that the state's veterans budget would be raised by the full $9.2 million promised in Measure 96," Crawford said after the forum.