It's been seven months since Amy's Kitchen began production of its organic frozen food lines on Agate Road in White City.

It's been seven months since Amy's Kitchen began production of its organic frozen food lines on Agate Road in White City.

The center of a high-profile tug-of-war between the governors of California and Oregon, Amy's proved to be the coup of the decade for the region's economic developers.

"Amy's Kitchen was ultimately very big," says Ron Fox, who assumed his post as Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.'s executive director after the Santa Rosa, Calif., company's local expansion was signed and sealed.

"In its early stages I don't think that it was anticipated to be as large as it's become already. Amy's could still be much larger over time as their markets grow and operations expand."

The latest report to cross Fox's desk shows Amy's Kitchen now employs 450.

"That's a very large single-point addition to the region's employment," Fox says.

The questions become: Who will be Southern Oregon's next Amy's Kitchen, and how long will it take to lure such an employer here?

Medford Fabrication President Bill Thorndike Jr., a Port of Portland commissioner and a regional Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco board member, thinks it will be a while before the feat is duplicated, and that might be for the best.

"Driving around Southern Oregon and looking at the commercial and industrial parks coming in, our sweet spot continues to be small employers with the capacity to grow into 15- or 25-person businesses. My own feeling is that I'd rather see four or five of those than someone with 150 to 250 jobs that we have seen in the past and seen them come and go. Certainly we have the opportunities for the 250- to 500-person employers and we have some pieces of land that could accommodate those, which is good."

Tom Becker, chief executive at Pacific Retirement Services Inc., the Rogue Valley Manor's parent company, says part of the equation is infrastructure and another part is how user-friendly businesses find local governments.

"East of Sacramento, in Lincoln and some of those areas (in the Sierra foothills), things are exploding," Becker says. "It's easy to get permits. Although businesses are coming to Oregon, there is an underlying challenge. We're in competition and I think government needs to continue to be a lot more nimble and move through the processes quicker. Regional planning is great, but to a certain extent it stifles projects that should go forward, by missing deadlines and going at a slow pace."

Becker says housing costs and a shortage of health care professionals are additional impediments.

"I think (companies) will still come," Becker says. "We've got excellent water here, so I think a business that could use excellent water will come, but I don't know who that would be."

While there are possibilities of attracting large employers, local job growth is primarily coming incrementally from existing operators: ICWUSA.com Inc., which manufactures and distributes ergonomically designed mounting systems in northeast Medford; Pro-Weld Inc., a specialty metal fabricator and barbecue maker in White City; and Medford advertising and marketing firm Lanphier Associates Inc. are among the recent companies to expand with the help of SOREDI's $6.6 million revolving loan account. Expanding companies can get loans of $150,000 (up to $250,000 using land as collateral) for equipment or buildings.

Jackson County has three newly approved enterprise zones, where building and equipment property taxes are waived for a three-year period, for qualifying businesses. The zones, totaling about six square miles, become effective July 1.

In Butte Falls, the area is south of Butte Falls-Fish Lake Road where it meets Laurel Avenue. The Tolo Road area north of Central Point, generally bordered by Interstate 5 on the south and Blackwell Road on the north. In Rogue River, the enterprise zone is bordered on the west by Pine Street and extends to the south end of town along East Main Street. Some of it lies near the Panel Products operation as west of the Rogue River. Although interested parties are looking at the sites, Fox says confidentiality agreements prevent him from revealing who they are.

Unlike some economic development entities, SOREDI also manages enterprise zones.

"When we deal with a business, we can drag out the tool that is most appropriate from our tool box," Fox says.

He says his organization is pursuing a company with nearly 100 employees that would make a capital investment of $15 to $17 million, but there are no guarantees.

"For us to score another 450- to 500-person employer, while it's not a career maker, gets us into that rarefied air," Fox says. "It says something about the size of the region and our potential."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at business@mailtribune.com