City will need more information on staffing and resources before making specific decisions.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF LAKE OSWEGO - The Lake Oswego City Council continued discussions around the economic development strategy.The Lake Oswego City Council is continuing its discussions around a proactive economic strategy for the city.

During the Dec. 21 meeting, the council provided feedback to staff about what the city's role should be in the economic strategy, and where staff should focus efforts and resources.

"It's about alignment and it's about the city, our partners, the people we're wanting to serve including businesses and the residents of course," said Community Development Director Scot Siegel, adding that it's important to focus on what the city can do to leverage economic activity while working in partnership with other organizations to generate business investment and job creation.

Specifically, staff sought direction on seven potential areas: situation awareness, customer service, networking and education, policy and code improvement, planning and redevelopment, programming, and branding and marketing.

While the council was supportive on these topics there were mixed reviews about the immediate need for branding and marketing.

"Many of the actions we take as a city through both public investment in our downtown and Lake Grove town centers, in creating a safe community, in the walkability and access to parks and nature and our proximity to regional transportation connections all help make LO a premier location for both population serving and trade sector businesses," said Lake Oswego Mayor Joe Buck in an interview with The Review. "Through zoning that allows everything from light industrial to office and general retail, we're fortunate to have space for many types of firms and jobs. But we don't often think of these actions in the economic development context, so a plan will help form some intentionality around how we're continuing to strengthen our local economy."

In September, the council held a joint meeting with the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce to discuss an economic strategy, and the council expressed general support of the recommendations set forth by the chamber.

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.

City councilors supported the ideas, and many expressed their interest in developing a brand and marketing plan for the city. While the council expressed general support of the plan and discussion overall, no formal decisions were made.

"The business climate of Lake Oswego is at an exciting turning point and with the City's attention can build assets for the entire community," the city's staff report said. "The City should take a proactive approach in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce to bring the resources of our community's organizations together to advance community livability."

Staff recommended allocating $250,000 toward economic and business development around situation awareness, as well as branding and marketing, in 2022.

"These funds would be used for staffing and outside services including contracting with (and leveraging funds of) other organizations," the report read. "This is a similar model to the City's relationship with the Arts Council of Lake Oswego, and by comparison, this is the same amount of funding allocated to the Habitat Enhancement Program, a partnership between the City and local watershed councils, during the first year of that program."

Council did not take formal action during the study session and didn't commit to a specific allocation of funds. This, among others, will be a topic at the goal setting meeting in 2022. The program will then be further refined and developed.

Buck said having a point of contact at the city is "critical" as well as leveraging partnerships and business and community resources.

"We are not always up on what's going on with some of our larger employers in town," City Councilor Jackie Manz said. "I think it's vitally important that we are checking in not only with our partners in other municipalities, but perhaps with trade groups … to hear what the buzz is on the street."

Manz added that networking and education is paramount, and that council representatives should attend meetings of county, regional and state economic redevelopment agencies to find out what other municipalities are doing.

"I'm a big proponent of working with community partners and I think our chamber has done an outstanding job of being that partner that we have relied on in the course of history," said City Councilor John Wendland, adding that he likes the idea of having a key contact at the city for efficiency.

The councilors agreed that branding and marketing is important and that they should utilize resources outside of the city.

Councilor Rachel Verdick said branding and marketing is important but at this time, it's not a priority.

"I also believe there are things we need to focus on before that as a city," Verdick said.

Wendland suggested taking a deep dive into current staffing levels and prioritizing where the city wants to spend money.

Lake Oswego City Manager Martha Bennett said staff will return to the council with more information on the final economic development strategy and a resource plan. While the staff report hinted at areas where would be better for contracting outside versus in-house, staff will look further into how to proceed with a combination of in-house and outsourced resources.

"This is not going to be like turning on a light switch," Bennett said. "This will take time especially because we really don't have most of these programs in place."

For more information, visit the city's website.

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