PHOENIX — Today is the first day on the job for new City Manager Steve Dahl, who brings nearly a decade of management and economic-development experience, and he says he's ready to help the community move forward.
The economic development coordinator in Grants Pass since 2007, Dahl was selected from 20 applicants to replace outgoing interim City Manager Eli Naffah, who has been commuting from Crescent City during his 18-month tenure. The City Council decided last winter to move forward with a search for a full-time manager, and they liked what they saw in Dahl.
Naffah, who will stay on board for two weeks to help Dahl transition to his new job, did not apply for the manager position.
With experience ranging from working for a neighborhood bakery in Portland to teaching English as a Second Language in Korea after graduating from Willamette University, Dahl, 46, spent the past nine years working in economic development, first for Grant County's Canyon City and then in Grants Pass.
Dahl also has served in various appointed positions for the Oregon Economic Development Association.
Some of the items on Dahl's to-do list revolve around budget stability, urban renewal, helping guide development of available land and coordinating issues related to the soon-to-be-replaced Fern Valley interchange.
"I've always enjoyed helping people grow and helping businesses grow, so now I get to help a city grow and move forward," he said.
"I don't want to say the economic downturn is over, but we're seeing improvement in what businesses are doing and some growth in that area, and I really think Phoenix is setting itself up nicely for some long-term growth that'll really help the city's future."
Mayor Jeff Bellah said City Council members were intrigued with Dahl's economic-development experience and felt the Oregon native would be a good fit for the city at a time when growth and urban renewal are important issues.
"We found Steve had some good, general experience and a lot of specific economic-development experience, in addition to having contacts throughout the state," Bellah said.
"I really feel like he's going to give us some great ideas and help us with his connections with groups that Phoenix hasn't been involved with as much in the past. I think he will bring a lot of specific knowledge about how to seek grants and do a lot of planning things we need to do to move forward. He's going to be a good fit for Phoenix."
Council members have said they wanted a city manager who lives in the city — or at least in the Rogue Valley — and Dahl said he plans to move here soon.
"The City Council prefers that I live in the area, and I also think it's important for the city manager to live in the community in which they're a manager," Dahl added.
"If nothing else, it's important to be involved in the community and to have those five-minute conversations when you're buying your groceries and someone wants to know how something is going or what might be happening in their hometown. I always found when I was doing economic development that being part of the community I was helping to develop was an essential part of developing those ties."
In searching for a new manager, Bellah said, city officials opted to consider applicants with unique skill sets that could help the growing town, even if that meant hiring someone who hadn't been a city manager before.
Dahl fit that description, and he said he believes his experience will serve him well in the new role.
"I think economic development fits into city management quite easily," he said. "In economic development, your job is to help businesses work with every single department in the city or county and to navigate all the rules and regulations. It works the same way in a business or in a government situation.
"I hope to be able to provide that stability and work in a community that wants to go forward. The council has decided what they want to do and where they want to go, and I want to be the one to help them do all of that."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.