4/3/2007 1:29:00 PM Sisters at an economic crossroads
By Joseph Duerrmeyer
The future of Sisters is being shaped by decisions that are being made now about how the city will grow.
Will Sisters become a bedroom community for Bend and Redmond? Will it become a mini-Bend? Or will Sisters develop a "sustainable" economy that allows it to retain the town's unique character?
"Of the three choices, I certainly hope that we succeed in the latter - developing a sustainable economy that retains the character of Sisters," said Cheryl Mills, Executive Director of the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce.
"We have to be able to think beyond the next tourist season. We have an event-based economy, and we have to get beyond that if we are to grow and still retain the character of Sisters. We are often short-sighted in our goals. We need to pass on a better Sisters to our grandchildren than the one that we received," said Mark Yoakum of Yo! Productions.
Yoakum is involved in the development of the FivePine Lodge and Conference Center at the east end of Sisters. Part of the FivePine business strategy is to attract businesses to Sisters during the "off-season" for conferences and retreats.
Mike Gould, a local radio entrepreneur and chair of the Sisters School Board thinks that some communities in the region have missed opportunities to grow in a sustainable way.
"Redmond is a perfect example of a town with a city council that was asleep at the wheel," he said. "They were so caught up in looking after their own agendas, that they looked up one day and realized they were becoming a suburb of Bend and had lost their identity. I don't want to see that happen to Sisters."
Small town values, natural beauty and easy access to outdoor recreation attract many people to Sisters, yet accommodating that influx threatens those same values.
"Everyone says that they don't want to change the character of Sisters and want to preserve it, yet their actions often have the opposite effect of their words," Gould said.
Yoakum thinks developers and business people should tread lightly and carefully.
"I think it is important to understand the character of a town before starting a business or making changes that are at odds with the spirit of the area," said Yoakum.
Taking the time to watch and find that niche that fits into the character of the community has its own rewards.
"Sisters is a community that embraces art and culture. It has a critical eye toward quality," said Lisa Clausen, owner of Sisters Movie House. "When I decided to move forward, I felt that I had a grasp on what was necessary and could create a business that would fulfill a niche and yet be true to the character of Sisters. Perhaps Ron (Glanville, movie house manager) said it best when he said we want to be Sisters' living room."
Chef Bill Wavrin provided another example of taking his time to discover the heart and soul of Sisters. His purchase of Depot Deli was nearly invisible and seamless in the community. Under his guidance, the restaurant is evolving into something new and fresh yet something that is still recognizable as being within the character of Sisters.
"I wasn't in any hurry. I didn't want to create a stir. I just wanted to do it right and be an asset to Sisters," said Wavrin.
A few are thinking toward the future and trying to attract the kind of business that will provide a sustainable economy.
"I would like to attract businesses to the area that will be low impact, businesses like software engineers or other high tech businesses that will bring young families and build a financial base for the city that is not driven only by the tourist season," said Shane Lundgren, area resident and property developer.
The Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce is on the same page, if not in the same paragraph.
"We would like to get a person to help the chamber that understands economic development: someone who could find a way to attract business and investment in Sisters that would lead toward a sustainable economy; someone that could help find ways to attract the kind of businesses we would like to have," said Mills.
Aspen Lakes Golf Course has come to grips with the idea of building a sustainable economy.
"We have a good tourist base, but we want to expand our base in Sisters," said Grant Cyrus, general manager. "We would like our new clubhouse to be a magnet for Sisters."