The infusion of $32 million of private investment capital in Laird Superfood, which currently employs 70 people, could change the economy in Sisters over the next five years and beyond.

Laird Superfood, with two new buildings on Lundgren Mill Drive across from the Clear Pine neighborhood, was poised to go public with an IPO when, at the last minute, they unexpectedly received the offer from private investors who will hold a minority share of the company. Paul Hodge, Laird CEO, said it happened very quickly. These kinds of things generally take at least a couple of months and this deal was concluded in a couple of weeks.

The company is named after Laird Hamilton, a world-famous surfer, who was looking for a more nutritional creamer for his coffee and created his own recipe at home. From there the company has grown to include a number of other nutritious products, all of which are made from natural ingredients with no preservatives.

The announcement of the investment was originally set to be made in early January 2019, but a reporter for The Bulletin discovered their Form D filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and called Laird Superfood for comment. They decided to comment due to the fact there were errors in the filing and they wanted to correct those.

The names of the private investors still have not been revealed and will be announced the first week in January.

What this expansion means for Sisters is significant in a number of ways. Hodge told The Nugget that over the next five years they plan to have 500 employees working in Sisters. They have plans to build a 30,000-square-foot warehouse on the corner of North Pine Street and Lundgren Mill Drive, next to their two new production and office buildings. They have an option to purchase all the property from Lundgren Mill south to the stop sign at Barclay.

The company plans to hire local people first, but for that many employees and a number of jobs requiring special skill sets, it will also be necessary to bring people in from outside. Of their current 70 employees, Hodge estimates about two-thirds of them come from Bend, Redmond, and Sisters and one-third were brought in. If the new employees follow the current trend, those under 40 will opt to live in Bend for the social scene and those who are older and with families will choose to live in Sisters.

Laird will be hiring to fill positions in administration, finance, sales, digital marketing, social media advertising, package design, IT, computer support, purchasing, manufacturing, shipping, and logistics. As they roll out their products to the national markets, they will require a large number of account managers who will handle their wholesale accounts.

All of the product will be shipped out of Sisters by truck. Hodge admitted it could have been easier if they had located somewhere else but said, "The type of people we want to hire are attracted here."

Laird wants to do good things for the local community and allow younger people the opportunity to live and work in Sisters.

Hodge said that after selling his business in the East, he and his wife had the opportunity to choose anywhere to live. They chose Sisters as the place to raise their family. They enjoy the recreational activities, Central Oregon in general, and the community of Sisters.

Hodge indicated an interest in talking with the school district about establishing a food management program at the high school so students would be able to come to work at Laird upon graduation. They could also consider an intern program with students gaining workplace experience.

"In supporting them (with training), they can support us (with trained employees)," Hodge said.

The response from the public sector in Sisters has been overwhelmingly supportive.

"Sisters is blessed to have Laird Superfood headquartered in Sisters," said Mayor Chuck Ryan. "It is such a great fit given its low impact environmentally. Their recent growth announcements will be a tremendous positive impact economically to the City and surrounding areas and goes a long way in helping accomplish one of our main visioning goals, which is creating a vibrant and diverse local economy."

The mayor went on to say, "With that said, there will be some challenges that need to be addressed with that type of growth, including providing local affordable housing options for their workforce. We want to have these workers live and raise families in Sisters Country, which will have huge positive effects on the economy and the school system."

He concluded, "We will also want to engage further with workforce development programs by partnering with the school district, local businesses, and workforce development organizations to create programs, internships, and apprenticeships that develop and train Sisters Country's emerging workforce. All of these challenges will be part of our ongoing visioning implementation process."

City Manager Cory Misley told The Nugget, "The planned growth of Laird Superfood is impressive on many fronts and a testament to the current vibrancy of Sisters and confidence in its future. With that level of growth, plus on-going efforts to further diversify the economy, the City must continue to have an eye towards the future for essential infrastructure and land use. Growth overall is not a surprise and, through the visioning process, many next-step action items are identified to prepare for that and add to the livability of Sisters Country."

From the Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director Judy Trego offered, "The potential addition of 500 jobs in Sisters is crucial to the health and vitality of the community. These new jobs help to diversify our economy and drive the local market by increasing sales for our (Chamber) members. This welcome addition will also help stabilize off-season revenue to cash-flow strapped businesses, currently reliant on the destination tourism sector. We are excited and wholly supportive of Laird Superfood's expansion, and our membership will benefit significantly from Laird's investment in the Sisters Country community, individually and as a whole."

When queried about where all the new people would live, Hodge referred to the new proposed development by Hayden Homes next to Sisters High School (see story, page 7). The employees with children who choose to live in Sisters are expected to help boost school enrollment.

If all of Laird's plans come to fruition, Sisters will no longer be considered just a tourist economy with its fluctuating business cycles. Laird would become the largest employer, passing up Black Butte Ranch and the school district, currently the two largest employers in Sisters Country. Manufacturing could become the single largest industry sector in town.

With the infusion of capital and growth of the company, acquisition of other natural food companies is a possibility. As of January 2019, expanded distribution through national chains will begin.