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City looks to chart a new, business-friendly course

Economic development means urban renewal with aggressive business recruitment and retention efforts


Kristin Retherford counts herself among the lucky ones.

The city of Wilsonville’s newly appointed economic development director has always felt that way, it seems. by: CITY OF WILSONVILLE - Kristin Retherford intends to pursue strategic business outreach in a way Wilsonville has not seen to date.

“I’ve been super lucky at Wilsonville in that there is so much going on here there has always been a new challenge,” said Retherford, who formerly was the city’s urban renewal director. “In nine years, there has always been something new to learn and new opportunities, and this is the next one.”

Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove announced the appointment Aug. 5. It’s part of a reshuffling of city departments that puts urban renewal under the community development department.

Retherford has worked for the city for nine years and has more than 20 years of real estate and development experience in the public and private sectors combined. During her time with the city, she has managed the two urban renewal districts, aided the development of the city’s capital improvement program, helped with real estate acquisition and worked on the design and construction of park and building projects.

“This new position was created to reflect the city council’s priorities for economic development and retaining and attracting businesses,” Community Development Director Nancy Kraushaar said.

For the last few years Retherford has been on the city’s three-member economic development team along with Stephan Lashbrook, former assistant community development director and now SMART transit director, and Mark Ottenad, public and government affairs director.

Now she is responsible for economic development efforts, including business outreach, retention and expansion and recruitment. She will stay involved in urban renewal to a certain degree, but will not be engaged in capital project management like in the past.

Present and future

When it comes to urban renewal and the future of economic development in Wilsonville, Retherford and the city already are working on implementing the city’s voter-approved tax increment financing (TIF) zone program. The concept came from the city’s economic develoment task force and was widely approved by voters in March. As designed, TIF zones provide a significant financial incentive for the redevelopment of older, vacant or underutilized industrial warehouses. They do this by offering a company up to a 75 percent rebate on property taxes if they put $25 million or more into refurbishment of one of the designated locations and create above-average wage jobs.

“We’ve gone through a really good process to determine what tools will work best for our community,” said Retherford. “Wilsonville shouldn’t want to be or strive to be the same as any other community. All communities have their own character and you have to play to your own strengths, and Wilsonville has done a really good job of that. The work of the economic development task force really solidified that.”

She backed up even further, explaining that the impetus for the task force and an overall city strategy actually should be viewed through the prism of the Great Recession that started in 2008.

“Wilsonville has had a very fortunate and very long history of businesses wanting to come to the community because of all our community’s attributes,” Retherford said. “But I think a big part of what happened was a result of the recession and seeing a number of our large warehouses become vacant and a lot of larger companies going out of Wilsonville.”

The loss of distribution centers run by Nike and Joes, as well as other examples, were a blow to a community known for its business prowess. At the same time, she added, cities and states across the country were reacting to similar or worse circumstances by aggressively recruiting any business that was not in dire straits.

“Cities and states really started to ramp up their recruitment of business,” she said. “Everyone was having a hard time. You’d see people going out of business or being actively lured away with offers and incentives and tax benefits.”

She admitted certain states, including Texas, Ohio and Utah, often pop up during conversation with business executives investigating Wilsonville as a possible home. That’s because of low-interest loans, different tax structures for business, as well as outright financial aid to help assemble land purchases or facilitate expansion.

In Oregon, enterprise zones serve a similar function by allowing for property tax rebates for companies that successfully grow employment and invest in new facilities or equipment. Wilsonville does not qualify for its own enterprise zone, however, because it does not fall under state economic hardship status requirements.

In the future, Retherford will focus much of her work on Wilsonville’s TIF zones. But she also will be aggressively pursuing what she terms “relationship building” with businesses, real estate professionals and various chambers of commerce inside and outside the city.

“We haven’t had a program of proactive or strategic business outreach,” she said, “so I want to institute that. I’m going to develop a schedule to get out and talk with businesses and find out what their issues are. That’s one component to help with retention and expansion and to address concerns over retail vacancy; it’s pretty broad.”

Urban renewal going forward

The second main focus goes back to urban renewal, she said.

The city will be forming an urban renewal task force this fall, and Retherford naturally will be involved. Appointments will soon be made by the city council, after which the group will examine Wilsonville’s two current urban renewal districts for funding issues and how to best use the districts to leverage maximum benefit for the community.

“It’s an exercise in setting priorities,” is how Retherford described the process. “We’ll look at two existing districts, east and west, and the longer range plan for those, the timing for closing down the eastside district - we’re getting close to that time.”

In the future, the city will examine using urban renewal to boost development in the Coffee Creek and Basalt Creek industrial areas, as well as the Frog Pond and Advance Road residential areas east of the city.

Retherford acknowledges that public opposition to urban renewal has risen and fallen through the years. But she insists it is a vital tool for helping the city retain a competitive edge.

“It can be difficult to understand, and like any tool it can be used inappropriately,” she said. “But if you use a tool the right way they are really beneficial, and I think Wilsonville has seen a lot of great benefit from using urban renewal. The quality of infrastructure is part of what attracts the business investment we have.”

Used prudently, she said, and it can “fill a gap in funding in a way that leverages private investment and returns it to tax rolls so everyone benefits.”

“Where it has run afoul,” she added, “is where you have districts that have gone on and on with no closure in sight. That growth in assessed value doesn’t get turned over to tax rolls.”



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