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home : business : business July 22, 2018

9/19/2017 12:42:00 PM
City, Chamber work on fire impact
Local officials are trying to find ways to mitigate the economic impacts of a tough fire season in Sisters. photo by Cody Rheault
+ click to enlarge
Local officials are trying to find ways to mitigate the economic impacts of a tough fire season in Sisters. photo by Cody Rheault

By Cody Rheault

The effects of smoke and a decrease in visitors have impeded businesses over the summer. The City of Sisters and the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce are making efforts to minimize the economic impact.

Local companies and City leadership met last Tuesday for a closed-door meeting at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss options leading into the fall season following a summer short on expected profits.

The convergence of a heavy winter, the Milli Fire, the shortage of eclipse traffic, and the cancellation of the Sisters Folk Festival has put many businesses in a tough spot. According to City leadership at the meeting, the effects vary greatly from business to business, but some companies have noted a 50 percent decrease.

"September is critical for business," said Sisters Mayor Chuck Ryan. He noted the cancellation of the Folk Festival and smoke from the Milli Fire has deterred customers and diminished what businesses depend on as a profitable season.

"The smoke wasn't just from our fires though, it was a culmination of many surrounding ones," he stated. "All of Oregon was impacted."

Sisters also lies in the wake of negative media influence affecting the economy directly. The steady flow of customers has nearly cut in half as news from neighboring counties cast a grim view of Sisters. Inaccurate signage in the Valley has also been reported, misleading travelers into believing that Central Oregon is inaccessible.

"Some people in Portland don't know the difference between Highway 242 and 20. So when they hear 242 is closed, they think Sisters is inaccessible," said Judy Trego, executive director of the Sisters Chamber of Commerce. "We need to get the message out: We are open."

In an effort to mitigate the negative attention and draw visitors, the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce has increased its efforts in advertising. Utilizing radio advertisement in Portland and Bend, and broadcasting TV commercials on two Bend channels, the Chamber is focused on getting the attention back to our community. Drawing in visitors, in hopes of benefiting local businesses, is the Chamber's priority.

"We want to get the message out: Sisters is here and open for business," said Trego.

On the list of options for mitigating financial impact is the consideration of a disaster loan through the Small Business Association and Federal Emergency Management Agency. During the Tuesday meeting, members of City government and the Chamber discussed with businesses the option of applying for the loan.

The disaster loan would be assessed as a whole within Deschutes County, not just the town of Sisters. Applications would be assessed at the county level then passed through the Governor's office. Once approved, it would then be handed over to FEMA for evaluation.

Businesses interested in applying would be granted a low-interest loan, helping them cover cost deficits incurred over the slow months. At the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting, six businesses were interested in applying for the loan.

"The loan is positive, marketing is positive, and the meeting was very positive," said Ryan.

The economic impact of a bad winter and slow summer has brought about a close-knit community as well. The City and Chamber are working closely together in an effort to bring about hope and change for the local economy while encouraging businesses to work together.

"We have not received a ton of calls," said Ryan, admiring the durability of local businesses. "These people are really resilient. They need our help, but don't have their hands out."

Chris Wilder, owner of Sisters Log Furniture and Home Décor and president of the Chamber's board of directors, admired the sense of community and encouraged the continued support of one another.

"We are truly in this together," he said.

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