Woodburn keeps pace in challenging times
Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson and 15 other disparate voices from around the city contributed to a recent dialogue that revealed some recurrent themes that primarily pointed toward perseverance.
The city posted the mayor's State of the City 2021 address the first week of May, and the video not only accentuated an indisputably rough year, but adjustments and collaborations made due to the challenges, yielding a stronger, more holistic city as a result.
Between the pandemic shutdowns, business struggles, wildfires and an untimely ice storm that created citywide and regionally pervasive power failures, the overarching theme in the discourse was one of rallying.
"The last 12 months have been unique, challenging and just plain hard," Swenson said. "But the strength of our community came shining through during this difficult time, and we are the better for it."
A handful of the contributors were city staffers, including City Attorney Bob Shields, City Administrator Scott Derickson, Economic Development Director Jamie Johnk, Parks and Recreation Director Jesse Cuomo and Community Development Director Chris Kerr.
Derickson said the only certainty as the pandemic unfolded was that change was imminent.
"We worked really hard to realign our priorities, our resources and our services to try to not only run the city and stay afloat that way, but also to support the community the best we could with COVID outreach, education and information, materials and supplies," Derickson said. "We needed to make sure that we were conducting our city services in ways that were compliant with all the new COVID rules."
He described the changes as drastic.
"There were so many unknowns; we just didn't know what we were facing," Derickson said.
Johnk said the pandemic "threw a new curve in our economic development and planning.
"We went from assisting our businesses with growth and expansions to really working with them on staying open and saving their businesses from complete loss," she said.
A part of that involved acquiring grant funds to help businesses with rent, and helping them to meet and adjust to new safety standards.
Cuomo said the city distributed 73,821 items of personal protection equipment, including facial coverings, plastic sneeze guards and social distancing markings, working with 60 different partners in the process.
Kerr provided a glimpse of 2020's rosier side.
"Despite the COVID disruptions we've had this year, it's been a really busy and exciting year for the city in terms of development," he said. "We continue to see building activity at historically high rates. In fact, we've seen a five-fold increase in residential permits in just the last three years."
Kerr attributes long-term planning and vision to development successes.
"In the last year, 2020, we've issued 92 single-family home permits. And we can expect to see over 300 single-home permits in the next year," he said.
The address included various other voices from public safety employees to health and living-care facilty managers and the chamber of commerce.
Woodburn Fire District Chief Joe Budge said trials of the past year tested district resources.
"(There were) unprecedented challenges that the fire district has faced over this past year with the wildfires, the pandemic and the ice storm. All of those taxed our resources to the max," Budge said. "But I'm just really proud of the men and women of the Woodburn Fire District; how they responded to those challenges, and how they reacted in a way that met all those response demands."
Shawn Baird of Woodburn Ambulance highlighted partnerships that were proactive on COVID-19 testing, then rolled into being the same with vaccinations when they became available.
Chamber Director John Zobrist said challenges brought businesses together, such as some larger firms reaching out to restaurants that could not serve customers indoors to try to generate robust to-go orders. Similar collaboration was expressed by others.
"We've been successful over the past year in navigating through the disasters that have occurred by using them as opportunities to create relationships within our community," Woodburn Estates and Golf Association Manager Dawn Cole said, stressing collaboration with Aware Food Bank and other other service-providing nonprofits. "We look forward to growing these relationships in the year to come by staying involved with the town we live in."
FHDC Executive Director Maria Elena Guerra agreed.
"The pandemic allowed us to see our humanity and how far we can go when working together," she said.
"I think there has been a great deal of bridging, and thinking about how we keep our community safe," added Antonio Germann, a Salud Medical Center physician. "That has been our number-one priority at our clinic and our community as well. I'm just very appreciative of the sense of community that we have among our different health systems and health providers and local government."
The overall sense of the 20-minute video was one that suggested unprecedented adversity ultimately points to a positive horizon.
"Woodburn is such a big family, and I've got no doubt that the support we have in this community for the betterment of our neighbors and our friends is going to carry the day," Derickson said. "There are so many positive things on the horizon for us, I just believe that this upcoming year is going to be better than the last year — and in a big way."
Swenson ended the address with a salute to various parts of Woodburn and urging the community to look forward and be proactive as a whole.
"As you can see, it is your city government, your first responders, your assisted living places, your medical clinics, your nonprofit organizations, your businesses and other civic organizations and all of you as individuals that make our city strong," Swenson said. "As we move into the next 12 months, it's not only our challenge to recover from the very difficult year, but to think through the lessons we've learned that can help us be better prepared for the future and more innovative in it."
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