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Bates puts economic recovery on top of to-do list

Jobs and Oregon's still struggling economy were the primary focus of a town hall meeting hosted Friday night at the Medford library.

State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, held court for the nearly two-hour question-and-answer event.

Mark VonHolle, the president of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., started the meeting with a 25-minute presentation about the value of attracting sustainable, high-tech businesses to the Rogue Valley.

VonHolle discussed re-branding the area and creating a technology center/incubator that will grow and attract clean technology businesses that offer family-wage jobs in the sustainable technology traded-sector that involves goods produced for consumption elsewhere.

Bates then took over by giving a brief speech about the headwinds facing Oregon's economy and the continuing toll the recession is taking on Southern Oregon.

"If we don't get family-wage jobs in the valley, then everything else we do is going to fail," Bates said.

A number of people in the crowd complained to Bates that the valley's Internet service is lacking. This makes it difficult for people to move small businesses to the area, they said.

VonHolle said that the region has the beginnings of a robust e-commerce sector. It is an asset that needs to be expanded, he said.

"Millions of dollars are moving into this area through e-commerce," VonHolle said.

However, VonHolle did acknowledge that much of the e-commerce cash flows from Harry & David, which has struggled to right itself following the recession.

The region could face more economic hardship should Harry & David collapse, Bates said.

"Harry & David is a real danger here," Bates said.

When asked about the area's sagging property values, Bates was direct in his delivery of the bad news.

"I'm not going to stand up here and lie to you," he said. "We have another tough four years ahead of us."

Again, the senator used the housing questions to hammer his message of reshaping the area's image as a high-tech center of commerce.

He argued that if high-end jobs move into the area, then the housing market will rise with them.

Bates suggested that it might be time to ease some land-use laws that might help businesses expand and hire more workers.

"I say this as one of the biggest environmentalists you will ever meet," Bates said.

When asked about how the two parties are getting along in this new session, Bates voiced optimism.

"To this point it's been amazing," Bates said. "We set out to go about things in a bipartisan manner and it's been that way."

Bates suggested the fallout of the recession has forced republicans and democrats to work together to balance the state's budget.

"People realize that our backs are against the wall and there is no room for posturing," he said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.