Woman of the Year - Possibilities with a View How Lawnae Hunter is changing Central Oregon's economic future | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
The Source Weekly’s reporting is made possible by the power of your support. Be a part of it!
Pin It

Woman of the Year - Possibilities with a View How Lawnae Hunter is changing Central Oregon's economic future 

When Lawnae Hunter moved to Bend, she wasn't expecting to challenge the status quo. A former waitress and single mother who attended community college in Aptos, Calif., Hunter worked her way up the real estate food chain and developed the largest real estate company in Central California, Hunter Prudential Realty. The company was eventually sold to a subsidiary of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway.

After the sale, Hunter was looking for a change of pace. In 2003, she bought a house on Awbrey Butte and in 2007 moved to Bend full time. She brought her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren and joined one daughter already living here.

"We wanted to raise the kids in the healthiest environment possible," says Hunter, whose energetic and effervescent personality suggests a woman younger than her 61 years. But Hunter, who now owns the small real estate company Hunter Properties and Plus Property Management, felt compelled to action when she attended the 2006 economic forecast. California was already in economic decline, but instead of predicting increased unemployment and a decrease in property values, the forecasters were calling for a continued boom.

Hunter wasn't buying it.

"I took a customer, a real estate developer, to [the forecast]. He said, 'Let's go buy, buy, buy!' I said, 'what you just heard is inaccurate. You can't be investing in this market at that level today.'"

Although much of Central Oregon's real estate industry was blindly capitalizing on the housing boom, Hunter was more pragmatic.

"I felt like there wasn't really an arms-length, academically prepared economic forecast," says Hunter. "Had we not had this huge change in the lending market, it probably would have been fine. But the information that was being disseminated was being used by people to make investments who later lost millions."

Hunter, who previously served on the city of Santa Maria Planning Commission, found out that Central Oregon's economic forecasting lacked hard facts.

"No one was studying Central Oregon," she says. "It's important for the public and businesses to have no-spin information that's really concentrated on Central Oregon."

So, Hunter called Dr. Bill Watkins, a friend and economist, then with the University of Santa Barbara (UCSB), and asked him to conduct an economic study on Central Oregon.

"I said sure, and proceeded to ignore her," Watkins says.

But Hunter persisted.

"Typical Lawnae," says Hunter.

Watkins agreed, and Hunter organized a group of local business people to fund the project, which operated under the UCSB nonprofit umbrella.

"I thought, if we can fund this from the private side, we can get academically prepared information."

Watkins began his economic forecast for Central Oregon in 2008. After nearly one year of research with two other Ph. D. economists, Watkins presented his findings during the first Central Oregon Economic Forecast Project in January 2009 for 275 people at the Tower Theatre. By that point, everything Hunter had suspected was coming true - the economy had tanked and unemployment was on the rise. Still, the forecast Watkins gave was more solemn than expected. Watkins predicted a 15 percent unemployment rate, increased job loss and decline in home prices. The unemployment rate in Deschutes County was then 11.3 percent.

It was a tough pill to swallow for some. "One thing I learned during the recession is that some people don't want good data," says Watkins. "But if I sugarcoat it, you can't make good decisions." By April of 2009, unemployment hit 15 percent.

Now that Central Oregon had a real economic forecast, Hunter had mixed feelings. On one hand, businesses and individuals had a realistic picture of the economy. On the other hand, the prognosis wasn't good - especially, she says, for the younger generation leaving Central Oregon for higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

"A lot of people are asking, 'Are the opportunities for advancement here for me, or do I have to go to another community?' We've lost a variety of people who just can't afford to stay here."

At that point, Hunter moved from academics to advocacy. She created the Deschutes Economic Alliance, a group of local leaders with the goal of seeking an objective, coherent vision for the economic future of the Deschutes economy.

"We've seen a lot of angst and trauma in the community," says Dave Lewis, CEO of Jorno International and a member of the advisory committee for the Deschutes Economic Alliance. "If something isn't done, we face a continuing boom/bust cycle. Everybody was standing around waiting for a recovery, but business leaders need to try new things to make a change."

Lewis met Hunter five years ago and serves alongside her as a board member for Innovation Theatre Works. He jumped at the chance to reshape the community's economic future.

"These are leaders in the community," says Lewis of the Deschutes Economic Alliance advisory board members. "When they stand up in front of a group of people, things get done."

The latest accomplishment of the Alliance was enlisting renowned economic development strategy consultant, Delore Zimmerman, to create a three-year strategic plan for Central Oregon's economic future.

"The advantage of Delore is that he looks from the stratosphere," says Hunter. "He takes the best ideas and matches them with places and people."

Zimmerman created a strategic plan, the "1,000-Day Road Map," which outlines initiatives for creating sustainable economic growth in Central Oregon.

"The community needs to focus on a few things that will create jobs and create more opportunities," says Zimmerman. Included in his recommendations are fostering more start-up businesses, creating business partnerships with the Warm Springs tribe and developing a world-class university and applied research center.

Zimmerman presented his 1000-Day Road Map at the most recent economic forecast in January. Of the 375 attendees, nearly half signed up to be on committees for the initiatives.

Zimmerman gives Hunter much of the credit for the Alliance's nascent success.

"She's got this rare ability to take a look at a situation and then mobilize people to see what the possibilities are," says Zimmerman. "She's big into possibility thinking. That kind of leadership is pretty rare."

It's no coincidence that visitors to Hunter's office are greeted by a wooden plaque that reads "Possibilities with a view." Hunter came up with the slogan after tiring of hearing the old saw that Bend is just, "poverty with a view." She had the plaques manufactured locally and now hands them out to friends and associates.

"Yes, Central Oregon's beautiful. But that's just one piece of the pie. We've got to elevate ourselves up and change that," she says.

In addition to owning two companies, and her work with the Central Oregon Economic Forecast Project and the Deschutes Economic Alliance, Hunter serves on the boards of Innovation Theatre Works and the Central Oregon Rental Owners Association. But when I ask if she'd ever trade all of this for retirement, she shrugs off the suggestion. "I like being engaged with life in the community," she says.

"She never seems to tire," says Davis, "I never see her negative or discouraged. She lifts everybody's spirits even when you don't think it can happen."

Hunter seems to attract fans wherever she goes. She was previously named Entrepreneur of the Year and Woman of the Year in Santa Maria, and although she's been in Bend just a few years, she's made quick work of attacking Central Oregon's economic future and mobilizing the community in the process. For these reasons, Lawnae Hunter is the Source Weekly's 2011 Woman of the Year.

About The Author

Pin It

More in The Women's Issue

  • Who's the Chick on the Drums?: Lindsey Elias is leading the way for the region's young female musicians

    Lindsey Elias is 24 and has been a rock drummer for a full decade. She has one hell of a stage presence and it all comes in one surprisingly small package. Watching Elias and her 105-pound frame push out the power and speed of an enormous male drummer is really something to be seen when she's up on stage with her band, Empty Space Orchestra. Take a look at the audience at an ESO show and you will see people's necks craning just to get a better view of what she's doing. She has a magnetic, natural beauty on the drums as she pumps out incredibly fast, hard-hitting licks. There is something contagious about the joy, the passion and the pure rock n' roll in her facial expressions that radiates out to the crowd who watches with mouths agape or perhaps smiling in delight. "She's so fun to watch. She just gets so into it. It's surprising to see so much noise, such loud and harsh noise, coming from such a small person," says an ESO fan named Griffin after one of the band's packed Silver Moon residency shows in January.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Swimming Through a Sea of Plastic Bags: Sara Wiener at Sara Bella Upcycled creates useful, environmentally friendly products out of trash

    If you walk beyond the showroom at Sara Bella Upcycled, which is currently located upstairs above O Mo Mo in the Old Mill District, you will likely see a sea of plastic bags. Sara Wiener, owner of Sara Bella Upcycled, swims through the bags, creating one-of-a-kind products including tote bags, wallets, aprons, wine carriers, belts, and more. The greatest part about swimming through the sea of bags every week is that you do so knowing that the bags won't end up polluting our oceans and killing the sea life. Before opening Sara Bella Upcycled in 2010, Wiener operated Sara Bella Custom Outdoorwear, which sold Polar Tec polar fleece clothing. Wiener ran the business for 14 years, but closed because she felt burnt out. After closing the business she spent the next couple years doing development work in Africa. One night a family came over to her house for dinner and brought their food in a bag that sparked Wiener's interest. The family's middle-school-aged son looked up online how to make a messenger bag out of black garbage bags.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Why Should Women Have the Vote? Why Not?: A history of women's suffrage in Central Oregon

    The question seems ridiculous today but only 99 years ago, in May 1912, the Bend women you see in this picture met on the steps of Drake Lodge to voice an answer to that question. Oregonians defeated measures to legalize the vote for women five times between 1884 and 1910. By 1912, on the verge of the sixth attempt, state suffrage leaders realized the fight was not to be won by campaigning in the Willamette Valley alone. They needed to go beyond the Cascades.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Riding High: Miki Keller Makes Women's Motocross a Serious Sport

    Motocross, the sport featuring people riding souped-up dirt bikes around a muddy track and flinging themselves off of jumps, doing tricks like the "superman," has been growing in popularity since it was introduced in the United States in the 1960s. Today, some riders are as popular as rock stars and those at the top of their game are showcased at high-profile competitions like the X Games. But, for the most part, women have been left out of the sport, especially in television coverage and prize pools. That is, until Miki Keller got involved.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Ageless Songs: Sure, she's 79, but that hasn't stopped Harriet Dickson from returning to her music

    Harriet Dickson has plenty of stories. She can tell you about the time she performed on a radio show in New York when she was just six years old, or when she survived civil war in Iran, or the years she spent as close friends with Sammy Davis Jr. But now, at 79 years old, this great grandmother has another story to tell and it's about the new album of some of her favorite songs that she recently recorded. Dickson has done a lot with her life and played a variety of roles, ranging from mother to businesswoman to artist, but she could never shake her desire to be a singer. She always had dreams of making it in the music world, but life tended to get in the way, not that she's particularly minded.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Women Making the Best Beer in the Region... To Name a Few

    The Homebrewer Name: Maura Schwartz Age: 51 Occupation: International Development Consultant Beer-ography: Schwartz started brewing about six years ago after flirting with the idea for years. She won second prize at the Eugene Beer Festival for her first homebrew, a pale ale. After that, she was hooked. Schwartz, who has graduated to an all-grain system, kegs all of her beer and says she never makes the same recipe twice.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon
Forever Young: What Science is Discovering About Aging and Longevity

Forever Young: What Science is Discovering About Aging and Longevity - Wille Hall, Coats Campus Center, COCC Bend Campus

Tue., Oct. 4, 6-7:30 p.m.
Submitting an event is free and easy.

Newsletter Signup

Get Central Oregon daily news
directly in your inbox

Get Social

Latest in The Women's Issue

  • Women's Issue 2022

    • Mar 2, 2022
    Our annual Women’s Issue takes a look at some of the issues facing women today, and looks ahead to new frontiers. More »
  • Women of the Year 2021 ▶ [With Video]

    • Mar 3, 2021
    Stories of women doing great things—and that includes our Woman of the Year, Community Hero, Young Hero and more. Meet these incredible change-makers in Central Oregon More »
  • 2021 Women's Issue

    • Mar 3, 2021
  • More »

More by Sara Roth

Want to advertise with us?

For info on print and digital advertising, >> Click Here

© 2022 LAY IT OUT INC | 704 NW GEORGIA AVE, BEND, OREGON 97703  |   Privacy Policy

Website powered by Foundation