EDCO closes Jefferson County Office
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Economic Development for Central Oregon abruptly shuttered its Jefferson County office and terminated county director Janet Brown's employment.
The news came as a surprise to officials across Jefferson County and to local members of EDCO's board.
EDCO is a nonprofit corporation that works to recruit traded sector companies — those that produce goods that are mostly sold outside of the area — to Central Oregon.
Brown helped recruit Daimler and Sierra Case Parts, as well as other companies, to Jefferson County.
"I love the companies that we've been able to attract here because they fit in with our community," Brown said.
EDCO CEO Roger Lee delivered a letter to county administrator Jeff Rasmussen terminating the county's memorandum of understanding with the nonprofit, offering a 90-day "wind-down of the program ... from its regional office in Bend ..."
"We believe a full reassessment of the economic development strategy and implementation in this part of the Central Oregon region is needed in order to achieve the kind of economic impact and results expected by EDCO, as well as the residents and leaders within Jefferson County," he wrote. "... The closure of this local office will not impact the tri-county economic development effort that EDCO has led for nearly four decades and which preexisted local programs."
When asked how EDCO will continue to serve Jefferson County while terminating its memorandum of understanding with the county, Lee said, "Closure of the Jefferson County office as a result of terminating the MOU will impact EDCO's economic development services within Jefferson County because there will no longer be local, full-time staff there. Over the next year, what will not be impacted is the economic development services that EDCO has provided since 1981 to Jefferson County from the regional office. These services preexisted local programs in Redmond, Prineville/Crook County, Sisters, Bend and Sunriver/La Pine."
Jefferson County contributes to EDCO and acts as a pass-through organization for the county's three cities.
"This year, the county has budgeted $56,429 for our share," Rasmussen said. "The three cities fund another $25,000 for the total program budget of $90,000. The remainder amount is private sector donations that are raised by the local advisory committee."
Brown said the local fundraising drive had just raised about $36,000.
Rasmussen said the county was surprised that EDCO canceled the program without talking with community stakeholders.
"If we had been invited, we would have spoken against the program being terminated," Rasmussen said.
"The MOU between Jefferson County and EDCO established a local program and office, including local funding," Lee said. "With its termination, closure of the office and the layoff our local director logically followed."
What happens to the local memberships hasn't been determined.
"This is an issue that needs to be discussed with the local advisory board," Lee said, "since nearly all memberships within Jefferson County are currently dedicated to the local program via Jefferson County."
Lee said the decision to terminate Brown and close the office was made by the executive team staff and the governing board's executive committee.
"I wasn't aware until it occurred," said EDCO governing board member Rick Molitor. "I think there's a ton of factors that came into play. I don't think anybody took it lightly."
"Jefferson County was just not meeting the numbers that the other counties were doing," he added.
He said he wasn't sure why Jefferson County's numbers were lower.
"I think there's so many factors," he said. "Each community is so unique and different."
Lee gave slightly more detail.
"We have for some time been tracking both broad metrics of economic health in the tri-county area as well as our own, internal measures for each part of Central Oregon," Lee said, "and in our opinion, Jefferson County is not fully participating in the economic prosperity we are seeing elsewhere in the region."
When asked about the future of EDCO in Jefferson County, Molitor said, "I took it more as this is a reset. Let's figure out what we can do differently to help economic development in Jefferson County."
Brown said in her seven years with EDCO, she never had a performance review. She also felt that the job was too much for one person.
While other EDCO offices covered one city, she served Warm Springs, Madras, Metolius, Crooked River Ranch, Camp Sherman and Culver, as well as areas of the county not in any city limits.
"This position should be a one-community position like the others," she said.
She had planned to retire in 2024, but that changed Nov. 12. She was in Redmond for a directors meeting. Afterward, Lee and the Bend office manager told her she had until 2 p.m. to remove all personal items from the office, and she was told not to talk to city of Madras, Jefferson County or EDCO staff, she said.
"I said, 'Well, I guess that's it after seven years,' and they didn't say anything," Brown said. She said it was a strange and hurtful way to end seven years of service, which she had marked Oct. 29. Two days earlier, she had completed two years of classes that earned her the title of certified economic developer.
"It's all very strange, and it's a tough blow, but I'll be fine," Brown said. "I always land on my feet."
Brown shared some of her accomplishments during her time at EDCO, beginning with her first week on the job.
She worked with the Erickson Group to transfer the former Butler enterprise zone to Erickson Aero Tanker.
When she first came into the office, she found many binders "stuffed with maps, survey land descriptions and miscellaneous papers to show industrial property," she said. "There was no easy or professional way to adequately show available industrial property or to know how much was available."
So she worked with the county GIS manager and the Madras city planner to create "comprehensive airport-industrial maps" that she could easily show developers.
She set up Made in Jefferson County tours and lunches.
As the state enterprise zone manager in Jefferson County, Brown expanded the zone boundary by 1,443 acres.
"When I started with EDCO, we'd had an ezone for 13 years and had only approved one company," Brown said. "In the last six and a half years, we have eight approved ezone authorizations. These are all new or growing traded-sector companies creating new jobs and adding value to our tax base."
Brown says the total value of the companies is over $75 million and represents more than 110 new employees.
She also worked with several international solar companies and private landowners, including the county's first two solar farms.
In addition, she lobbied for legislation to enable Daimler to extend sewer to its new building and track, as well as to allow Madras to add 1,100 acres of airport and industrial land into the urban growth boundary in one step.
The most disappointing thing was not being able to thank the companies she had worked with. "A very heartfelt thank you to all the companies and the people who supported me," she said.
Brown isn't planning to find a new job until after the holidays, she said, adding that she's willing to help the companies she worked with before.
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