By HEATHER ROBERTS
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
Economic Development for Central Oregon has suspended its regional program in Jefferson County.
And considering it was just over a year into a renewed five-year deal with the county, the move caught officials there by surprise.
EDCO CEO Roger Lee says the decision came after research into how the office was performing and an overall evaluation of its strategic plan.
Essentially, he says, it wasn’t meeting expectations.
“Talking with some business owners there, with some local leaders about how the process works for doing business and economic development there, and revealed that there are some misalignments,” Lee said.
Local Director Janet Brown did not want to appear on camera, but tells Central Oregon Daily News Lee pulled her aside after a November 12th meeting in Redmond to say her position was being eliminated. She says she was given three hours to get her personal affects out of the office at the Madras Airport.
Shortly after, a letter was delivered to Jefferson County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen.
In an emailed statement, Rasmussen tells Central Oregon Daily, “Jefferson County was surprised at the course of action EDCO took by cancelling the program without having an open dialogue with the community stakeholders. Jefferson County was not involved in any meetings that the EDCO organization held to come to this decision. If we had been invited, we would have spoken against the program being terminated.”
“It’s a fair criticism of how this was rolled out,” Lee said. “But for a number of reasons, we felt like this was how we needed to proceed on this.”
Lee equates it to ripping off a band-aid instead of pulling it off slowly.
“The outcome is the same, but you get there quicker by ripping it off, versus trying to save every hair,” he said.
Brown says she’s proud of the work she did, attracting companies like Daimler Trucks, which opened a test track in Madras in 2016.
But Lee says EDCO’s efforts only created about 150 new jobs over the past eight years, compared to about 650 in Crook County over the same timeframe.
“We need to do something different. It can’t be business as usual, to get all the folks in Jefferson County participating in this,” Lee said. “And, I think, come upon some expectations that are realistic, too.”
Lee says for the next 90 days, he will manage the Jefferson County program from his Bend office, unless County officials agree to terminate the agreement sooner.
“Hopefully this is an opportunity for us to engage, maybe, in a different way and for Jefferson County leaders to engage in a different way for a different outcome,” he said.
Rasmussen says Jefferson County Commissioners will discuss their next steps on Wednesday.