Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Putting a Sunshiney Face on the Economy

The Eye tuned in OPB this morning to listen to the "Think Out Loud" program (taped Monday) about the slumping Bend economy and learned that

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2008 at 1:25 PM

The Eye tuned in OPB this morning to listen to the "Think Out Loud" program (taped Monday) about the slumping Bend economy and learned that the Doctrine of Bend Exceptionalism is still alive, if not exactly well, despite the bursting of the real estate bubble.

The Doctrine of Bend Exceptionalism is the faith that Bend is such a special, unique, extraordinary, remarkably wonderful place to live that we are immune to the normal vicissitudes of real estate (and other) markets.

Two of the three panelists on the show - Mayor Bruce Abernethy and Andy High of the Central Oregon Builders Association - are clearly in the Bend boomer-booster camp. The third, Corky Senechal of Neighbor Impact, was there to provide a reality check on the harsh economic facts of life in Bend - high prices, low wages, poverty and homelessness.

Frank Fiedler of the Infrastructure First group was in the audience and raised some good points about how Bend's roads, sewer system and other basic public services are lagging behind the pace of growth.

While acknowledging the city has to tighten its belt, Abernethy tried hard to put a positive spin on the local economy - he's the mayor, after all - citing the aviation industry and alternative energy development as promising growth areas. "We're trying to tout our horn [sic] all that we can" in terms of promoting green energy development, he said.

Probably more than anything, The Eye was struck by the number of times Bend's sunshine was cited as a reason why the area will attract residents and businesses and make an economic comeback. Hey guys, we need to face the fact that Bend is not the only place on Earth where the sun shines. (It also isn't the only place that has mountains, golf courses and lakes.) These amenities are nice, but do businesses really care about them when they're looking for a location - or are they more interested in stuff like a quality workforce, good transportation links, low energy costs and affordable housing for their employees?

Some of the on-line comments during the show were far more interesting and provocative than anything the panelists said.

"The number one priority of our local government should be in obtaining family wage jobs," wrote David Skelton, a local real estate appraiser. "The status quo group of Realtors, Politicos, Developers and the Bend Bulletin believe that we should be building additional resorts. While tourism brings needed dollars and businesses to our area, the minimum wage jobs these industries spawn does nothing to raise the standard of living for the majority of Central Oregonians. The developing of our land, for resort use, benefits those at the top of our economic food chain with very little dribble down to the majority of Central Oregonians. The time, effort and money wasted by our local government spent in kowtowing to this cartel would be much better spent in wooing businesses to the area with tax breaks and/or other benefits."

"Bend has a history of boom and bust; out-of-state developers and quick-turn real estate types have come and gone before," wrote Joan Mann. "While times are very difficult, I also see greater opportunity for community in the larger sense of the word during these times when money isn't the overriding goal. People seem more human and genuine during these tougher times here than when people are 'rolling in the quick-turns.'"

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