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Q&A: Dick McLaughlin on the Rogue Valley's economy

Personal File, 72, earned a business administration degree from the University of Oregon in 1952, then entered the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. From 1954 to 1965 he was a sales representative with the Burroughs Corp. He began a 23-year career with Jackson County Federal Savings and Loan Association in 1965, becoming president and chief executive officer in April 1972. He became chairman of the board for one year prior to retirement in 1988. Since 1989, he has been director of development for the Rogue Valley Manor Foundation. He will leave the post Dec. 31.He has been active in many cultural and civic organizations. He and his wife, Betty, have five sons and 11 grandchildren.

Q: What events have had the greatest impact on Rogue Valley economics in the past 50 years?

The broadest economic effect might be classified in a couple of ways. First, the most negative thing was putting a freeway through the middle of Medford. It may have been thought of as a great idea at the time, but in retrospect, the economic impact hasn't been good. It has created infrastructure and air quality problems and the fact that Medford only has two freeway exits has had an overall impact on the Rogue Valley economy.

The other impacts have been the decline of ' though still strong ' the logging industry. It's been good and bad. Fifty years ago, air quality in Medford was just terrible. The cleaning up of air quality and elimination of wigwam burners has had a major impact. Also the orchards have gone from burning rubber tires and diesel to spraying water and improving the heating process.

It's much more livable than it was 50 years ago.

Another wise decision was to keep the water commission independent from the city of Medford. There was a push to put it under the city so there could be a sharing of revenues. I think it was very wise to maintain the separation.

Q: What are the best financial/economic decisions community leaders made and what was the worst during that period?

Community support for moving the hospital from the Century Building to where Rogue Valley Medical Center is today and support to develop the medical center and Providence coming along behind. Certainly, it's been a major economic plus for the Rogue Valley. Though we've been through tough economic times, the medical center will be a very strong force for economic development.

One of the best things has been downtown revitalization. To finally get urban renewal established and seeing the work they're doing today shows it was an excellent decision. Another one was the Rogue Valley Manor expanding from 16 acres to now owning 600 contiguous acres. It really began getting aggressive in 1984-85.

The economics of changing the freeway are very, very difficult. We have never developed strong north-south infrastructure for traffic in Medford. To get to the Department of Motor Vehicles office (on Progress Way) you have to hopscotch from the Manor. In 1931, when they had the first study looking at that north-south problem, it was strongly recommended that Biddle Road should run all the way through to Barnett. It's never been done because of problems of going along Bear Creek, and Hawthorne Park was considered sacred. We're really paying for it today with Biddle dumping into downtown and people weaving through Willamette or Highland to find their way to South Medford.

Q: Last week, The Wall Street Journal detailed a series of decisions made in Washington, D.C., that led to some of the financial uncertainty in recent months. Were you in favor of bank deregulation that allowed large banking institutions to both lend money to a company and sell its bonds?

I thought the S&Ls added a wonderful balance to the financial world in the United States. During the Reagan era, (Treasury Secretary) Donald Regan, who had been at Merrill Lynch, was determined that there would be a demise among savings and loans. Customer CD rates were driven up to 12, 13, 14 percent. It was absolutely the most irresponsible government decision and brought along the crisis of the 1980s. It had a great effect on builders and developers. There was a major land development here at the time, and we had an 18 percent loan on it. It broke the back of the S&L industry and cost taxpayers billions.

Fifty years ago, corporate America, in retrospect, was pretty honest and forthright. It was led by people who remembered the Depression. It took a shake of the hands, and that's the way things were going to be. With Enron doing all that manipulating, it's disgraceful what has happened in business ethics.

Q: What's your assessment of the Rogue Valley economy, comparing it to when you were leading Jackson County Federal and now?

We've grown from a small town into a major economic force in Southern Oregon because of diversification. We've brought in people from other parts of the country, and not just seniors. A lot of airline pilots, for example, live here even though they're based out of San Francisco.

We've brought in bright, intelligent, fascinating citizens. It's unusual to find a community this size with as many truly outstanding individuals ... We've got Mount Ashland and the growth of golf courses and recreation. Britt, the Craterian, Shakespeare, opera, community music programs, plus the college (in Ashland) now has university status, and Rogue Community College has grown to be a vital part of our community.

Q: What are wise Southern Oregonians doing with their money these days?

Certainly, land is a good place, and there is an incentive when you're only earning — percent on your money in checking accounts. There are still some good land values in Medford. When you're wondering what do you do with a lump sum of money, putting it in land is not a bad idea. Seniors that live here need to put money into something that will give a return. Certainly, there are some good bonds and stocks. Be careful that what you're buying has a good rating of A- or better. I was able to get some 7.2 percent returns on some bonds. Double-tax exempt bonds are still good for people looking at net income.

Dick McLaughlin