It took one visit to sell Russ Ullinger on the Rogue Valley.

It took one visit to sell Russ Ullinger on the Rogue Valley.

The national site consultant from Foote Consulting Group in Phoenix, Ariz., took part in a tour put on by Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., last fall and admits he fell in love with the terrain and lifestyle.

Ullinger returns to Medford this week with some suggestions on what the region can do to attract employers and entrepreneurs. He will be among the speakers at the Southern Oregon Business Conference Thursday at the Medford Red Lion.

Ullinger said there is no need to sweat the dearth of large properties for factories or warehouses. Air-quality issues and distance from large population areas negate much of that opportunity anyway.

"You're probably not going to have an Intel or Walmart distribution center locating there," he said.

Rather, Ullinger suggested, Southern Oregon should put its top-shelf qualities on display in a collaborative effort.

"All the member communities in Southern Oregon are quite diverse," Ullinger said. "There are differences from Ashland, to Medford and Rogue River and Grants Pass. All of them have a unique economic status and that difference can be turned into a positive. Right now it's a negative. All the individual communities work with the state and SOREDI and there are great relationships within communities, but I'm not sure all of the communities are as cohesive (with each other) as they ought to be."

Like many before him, Ullinger said the decades-old perception of Oregon's anti-business climate remains an impediment.

"Going up against the perception is huge, but that and other things can be fixed," he said.

"The opportunities are abundant," Ullinger said. "You have a great education system and a great community college system that's in a partnership with the universities and local business. The programs are designed so students can go on to the universities or be trained in specific jobs. That's something that can be leveraged.

"You have a strong entrepreneurial culture and a lot of really smart people who are highly educated living in the region. You have ex-business people who don't want to live in San Francisco or Portland, but want to work and grow."

Ultimately, he said, the biggest challenge is getting the message out.

He suggests a comprehensive plan and strategy, not just coming from communities and cities, but from businesses such as Harry & David, Rogue Creamery and Amy's Kitchen.

Such a comprehensive regional marketing plan would include a labor assessment.

"If a third party comes in and does it, it provides more credibility," he said. "But you want everyone on the same page."

One issue the Rogue Valley has to overcome, said Ullinger, is being lumped together with Portland in the minds of people thinking about relocating their business.

"To a lot of people, if they're thinking Oregon, they're thinking Portland," Ullinger said. "The same thing's true here, when they think of Arizona, they think Phoenix. You have to differentiate yourself from Portland."

He said Southern Oregon as a whole is stronger than its parts because individual areas are too small to get much attention. Marketing the whole — and marketing it to the right audience — is key.

"You don't want to force it to be something it's not," Ullinger said. "If you're talking to a huge employer or corporate headquarters, you're going for a low percentage. Other things with planting the seeds for long-term growth are much more feasible."

The event runs from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24; the cost is $45 for SOREDI members and $60 for nonmembers. For more information, see

Speakers include University of Oregon economist Tim Duy; Craig Johnson, chief executive officer of Harry & David; Jim Hendershot, president of Radio Design Group; John Murphy, president of Murphy Plywood; and Mark Rudolph, chief financial officer of Amy's Kitchen.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail