'We can't just tread water': Lake Oswego discusses path to economic vitality
As local municipalities continue to grapple with the economic downturn during the pandemic, Lake Oswego feels it is in a good spot to advance a proactive economic strategy.
The Lake Oswego City Council held a joint meeting with the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce Sept. 22 to discuss an economic strategy, and the council expressed general support of the recommendations put forth by the chamber.
"I think we have an opportunity at a really strategic time to put these efforts together and move forward," said Jay Haladay, the chamber's vice president, adding that cities across the region are ramping up strategic economic efforts coming out of the pandemic. "We can't just tread water."
The chamber identified four main asks of the City Council: to express an understanding of economic development and work with the chamber to market and brand the city; to commit to regular meetings with the chamber to pursue economic development efforts to retain, recruit and strengthen businesses; to work with the chamber to update and document its economic development plan before the end of 2021; and to invest in economic development by having it be a budget item.
"I would love to have more meetings where we can just get together, talk and brainstorm and figure out solutions," said Councilor John Wendland. "We do need a stronger partnership with all of our groups in Lake Oswego to make the brand better."
During the meeting, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liz Hartman shared lessons they've learned over the last 18 months of the pandemic.
The city approved short-term funding for the chamber to work with businesses to provide resources and assistance, which Hartman said was helpful, but businesses weren't aware of what the city, county or other agencies were offering to them.
"Neither the chamber nor the city had a way to track failing businesses," Hartman said. "We didn't have a handle on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) or women-owned businesses that were constantly being mentioned as the hardest hit by the pandemic."
Hartman also noticed the city didn't have a comprehensive base of landlord information and had no consistent presence with organizations that provided information to the business community.
"In planning ahead, the chamber's been working with the city's (Robert Kincaid Memorial Public Administration) interns recently on emergency planning for businesses and an education program for businesses because you never know what's going to happen next," Hartman said.
Haladay said the chamber came up with several actions they can start moving forward with now, including building a marketing plan, expanding the chamber's resource center and developing a program to help build better businesses by making them more efficient.
City councilors supported the ideas and many expressed interest in developing a brand and marketing plan for the city.
"If you don't tell your story, someone is going to tell it for you," said Councilor Aaron Rapf, who added that good marketing uses data analytics to guide direction.
"The story of Lake Oswego, the narrative of Lake Oswego, is negative. It's very bad," said Councilor Massene Mboup. "It's up to us. We have to say that Lake Oswego is not only an inclusive society but it is progressive and it is very open-minded and very thinking forward."
Council President Daniel Nguyen also suggested eventually having an advisory board so citizens who might not be business owners but still have a unique perspective, could provide input as they develop policies for economic development.
While the council expressed general support of the plan and discussion overall, no formal decisions were made.
The group plans to meet again to discuss the city's priorities for economic development work, outcomes the city would like to achieve and top goals or projects the city wants to act on specifically.
For more information on this discussion, visit the city's website.
Examining trends and data
As the Lake Oswego City Council and Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce continue conversations around what it looks like to live and work in Lake Oswego, the entities examined some recent trends and data.
At the Sept. 22 meeting, consultant Mary Bosch gave a presentation on the local economic development ecosystem and shared what other cities are doing to approach this topic.
According to data from the Oregon Unemployment Department, Lake Oswego's unemployment rate sits at 3.5% as of July 21, which is down from 9.1% from April 2020.
"That's incredible," Bosch said.
The largest industries in Lake Oswego are professional/technical services, finance/insurance, health care, accommodation/food service and local government.
"We are a white collar employment base and we do have a good service base as well," Bosch said.
According to 2018 census data, 20,516 Lake Oswego business workers commute into the city, whereas 15,509 Lake Oswego residents commute outside of city limits for work. There were just over 2,200 people who both lived and worked in Lake Oswego.
"The census generally doesn't account for self-employed people who might be home-based," Bosch said. "It's giving us the picture of far more people commuting into our community every day than commuting out."
Bosch mentioned a few trends, including stress on the market for office space, a successful retail sector and tight supply in the industrial sector. Bosch said the number of vacancies for office space continue to grow in the Portland region, which is in part due to the uncertainty of working in offices during the pandemic and the emergence of more work-from-home hybrid models. Bosch said Lake Oswego retail occupancies were up over the last 10 months.
"If you cannot adapt, you cannot survive as a retailer," Bosch said.
She also talked about other Clackamas County cities and how they structure their economic development departments — if they have one.
Today, Bosch said Oregon City has the largest staffed economic development department and a handful of surrounding cities have some type of advisory committee.
For more information, visit the city's website.
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