Wilsonville is attractive to businesses of many types, survey says
Wilsonville representatives consistently highlight the city's business community and the exorbitant revenue that flows through town every day.
But what do business leaders actually think about setting up shop in Wilsonville? That's a question Economic Development Manager Jordan Vance sought to answer.
Vance visited businesses across the community this summer and revealed the results of his efforts at a Wilsonville City Council meeting Monday, Sept. 16.
The analysis included a survey and face-to-face meetings with Wilsonville employers in disparate categories such as high growth businesses and the traded sector.
Overall, 37 businesses responded to the survey (62% reply rate) and 16 interviews were conducted (27% response rate).
One positive Vance took from the project was finding out that 58% of survey respondents and 63% of traded sector interviewees said they have plans to expand operations or employment in Wilsonville.
"It was exciting. That's exactly what we want to hear — is that this is an attractive place to do business, that we have the climate, policy and landscape to support further economic development," Vance said.
Overall, Vance said about a third of respondents gave Wilsonville a 10 on a 10-point scale in assessing the city as a place to do business, while 63% gave the City at least a 7 and a third scored the city a five or below.
Three of the most common challenges to doing business in Wilsonville respondents identified were the availability of skilled workers due to the current tight labor market, the high cost of living and taxes and I-5 traffic congestion. Interestingly, two of the top advantages identified were similar to the disadvantages — access to I-5 and access to a skilled workforce.
Some other complaints included the purported dearth of restaurants that aren't chains and the City's permitting process, which a few respondents hoped could be expedited.
"I think we are addressing that (restaurant quality) through our Town Center Plan (to remake the Town Center commercial district). I think the Town Center Plan helps establish a vision that would create more of a main street district with local businesses, more farm to table, more local restaurants," Vance said.
Another barrier, some business owners said, is the lack of available land in Wilsonville until Coffee Creek Industrial Area public infrastructure is more developed. At the meeting, though, Vance pointed out that there isn't much available land for industrial development anywhere in the Portland metro area. The city also currently has available land in Coffee Creek and the Basalt Creek Planning Area will soon be available for development.
Vance was surprised to learn that some employers stated a desire to form a partnership with Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, which has myriad programs for adults in custody to learn job skills.
As for Wilsonville's largest employers, Vance said they generally did not respond to his inquiry.
"We have world class employers here that are working with huge private sector corporations, defense contracts and the federal government," Vance said. "Those folks have their own recruiting strategies, workforce training strategies. I think we can be of value from a local perspective but I think large employers I would imagine are self-sustaining on their own."
After Councilor Ben West inquired about the City's tax increment financing zones, which provides subsidies to businesses that meet certain qualifications, Vance said some business owners were interested but that the program only applies to a few parcels of land in Wilsonville and that those parcels are currently occupied. However, Vance said the City will likely bring the idea of reevaluating the program soon and the council could consider making it available across Wilsonville rather than at specific sites.
In the meeting, Councilor Charlotte Lehan brought up the idea of more collaboration with Tualatin for economic development since the two cities have large industrial sectors in close proximity to each other while Mayor Tim Knapp suggested the Wilsonville-Tualatin industrial cluster be designated a "regional center" by Metro, which might open it up to additional funding.
"We are a giant piece in the region but we never get looked at as an industrial cluster because we're in two different cities or different counties," Lehan said. "It seems to me that businesses don't see the distinction the way the data distributes it."
Vance hopes to continue this project in the future and to involve the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce more closely in the second phase. The City also plans to release a full report on the findings soon.
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