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Commissioners invest in the future

Ask any local candidate for public office about the top issue facing Jackson County, and the answer will be the same: jobs. Southern Oregon lags behind other metropolitan areas of the state in unemployment and in wages, and everyone agrees the problem must be addressed. The question is how.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has decided to support two approaches at once. After a spirited discussion in an Oct. 21 meeting, the commissioners voted 2-1 to back a proposal from development specialist Mark VonHolle, who believes an aggressive effort to lure high-tech companies from the San Francisco Bay Area will get results. At the same time, the commissioners agreed to increase the county's support for Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., which among other things proposes to lure manufacturing businesses by doing preliminary site work for them.

If either or both efforts succeed, it will be well worth the modest expense. And the commissioners attached enough conditions to the county's funding to protect its investment. In any case, two new commissioners will take office in January, and the new board will not be obligated to continue the funding.

VonHolle asked for up to $100,000 a year for three years, to be matched by two other backers. The county's contribution is contingent upon VonHolle securing those other commitments, which he essentially must do by the end of the year.

SOREDI's proposal involves working to create a "virtual building" — designed and displayed on a computer but not built — to show company officials considering a move to Jackson County. The SOREDI team also would secure initial approval and permits from local planning departments, so a company could start construction without the usual delays. And SOREDI will continue its other focus: helping existing businesses that want to grow.

The commissioners agreed to support SOREDI's efforts to the tune of $123,000 a year for five years, an increase over the $26,000 the county has been contributing to the agency but still a relatively modest sum of money compared with the possible return.

The commissioners instructed County Administrator Danny Jordan to draft tightly written contracts for both ventures that would require renewal of the funding each year contingent on detailed reports showing progress toward the goal of recruiting new industry.

Creating jobs is never a sure thing. What the commissioners have done is to commit about $250,000 a year — the equivalent of three or four good jobs with benefits — for a potential return of many more. That's a reasonable investment.