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Business recruiting deal to be approved

Josephine and Jackson counties are on the brink of sharing a third party charged with hustling up some business for Southern Oregon.

The Josephine County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve an agreement on Wednesday that calls for targeting "companies that are the right size and demographic for Josephine County and encourage them to relocate to Josephine County or Jackson County."

The agreement is a personal services contract with former SOREDI president Mark VonHolle for $50,000 per year. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a similar agreement with VonHolle in October.

The Josephine County contract will expire on Feb. 29, 2016. It can be renewed for additional one-year terms if both parties agree in writing. It can also be terminated by either party with 30 days written notice.

VonHolle will be paid $4,166 per month, with a maximum of $50,000 for the year.

Terms of the agreement include contacting 200 companies "that are the right size and demographic for Josephine County" and encouraging them to relocate to either Josephine County or Jackson County.

VonHolle is also required to actually visit 40 companies with the right demographics with the goal of relocating, and get 20 of them to visit Josephine County or Jackson County in return.

Finally, VonHolle is tasked with actually "facilitating" the relocation of four companies to either Josephine County or Jackson County, with documentation demonstrating his involvement with the relocation.

VonHolle helped found Sustainable Valley Technology Group in 2010 in Medford. That organization is described as a nonprofit "business accelerator" group.

He also is a past president of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, SOREDI, which is also used by both Josephine and Jackson counties to promote economic development.

"We've always talked about Jackson County also when talking about economic development," Heck said.

The contract is between Josephine County and VonHolle for personal services and does not involve Sustainable Valley Technology Group.

Heck said Josephine County will monitor Von Holle's progress, and that VonHolle will provide the Board of Commissioners with quarterly reports.

"We don't want to get into the position of dictating to him how to contact people, but we want to stay on top of it," Heck said.

The contract is not without its detractors, among them former county commission candidate Toni Webb, who previously made a pitch to the Josephine County Board of Commissioners to provide economic development.

In an email to the Daily Courier, Webb criticized the contract as soft, saying VonHolle "doesn't have to actually bring any companies here to Josephine County, he just has to 'facilitate' the relocation of four companies to 'Josephine or Jackson County' within three years."

Heck acknowledged there are no guarantees. "It is a relationship built on trust," he said, while also pointing out that the county can end the agreement by giving 30 days notice.

Another term of the agreement calls for "the relocation to or creation of 200 jobs" in either Josephine County or Jackson County that pay a minimum of 150 percent of the current median wage within three years, with the same documentation requirement.

"Sure, it would be better if we got the jobs here," Heck said, but he added that an influx of jobs within commuting distance could aid Josephine County residents as well. "We have hundreds of people here in Josephine County who travel down to Jackson County to work."

Webb also alleged political machinations on the part of the Heck and commission colleague Simon Hare, who comprise two-thirds of the board. Webb ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign against Hare in 2014, and she lost to Heck in the general election in 2012.

She also expressed concern that the contract doesn't say the new business has to be "traded-sector" job — a term of art that consists largely of manufacturing — and that therefore a fast-food restaurant would qualify.

Webb did offer an alternative to the proposed contract.

"I have an idea. The BCC puts an ad in the paper, inviting anyone who would like to bring a traded-sector company here to pick up a 'how-to' packet at the BCC office. I can write it for them," Webb wrote. "People could keep notes of whom they contact. Once someone lands a 'whale' and brings it on land, they would get a $20,000 finders fee. I think we would see some action."

The meeting Wednesday begins at 9 a.m. at Anne Basker Auditorium, 604 N.W. Sixth St.

Mark VonHolle Will work to bring firms to Southern Oregon