Annie Gorski discusses development challenges, incentives and the evolution of food processing industry.
Gorski spent the last year serving as interim economic development manager of Oregon’s capital city before receiving her official appointment earlier this month. Here are a few edited excerpts from our interview.
OB: What’s the biggest development challenge facing Salem?
Gorski: Like many communities, Salem lacks available, existing industrial buildings ready for occupancy. We have two new buildings coming on line in the Fairview Industrial Park, but there is a need for more. We receive inquiries nearly weekly from companies looking for existing building space.
One of the solutions is to encourage construction of flex space and spec buildings. These are buildings that are constructed to accommodate a variety of uses. When an end user is identified the floors and infrastructure to the building and inside the building is finished to meet their needs.
You launched a small business outreach program. Tell me about that.
We wanted to get to know our small businesses better and understand their needs. Nearly 70% of business growth comes from existing companies. We've known that, but until now, had not been staffed properly to focus on that and formalize a program.
Launching the Small Business Retention Program was prompted initially by a need to understand businesses in our North Gateway Urban Renewal Area better and to inform business owners of changes in a grant and loan program that we administer in that area. From April to June, we made contact with more than 60 businesses in that area. We learned of several companies contemplating moves, or in need of equipment or building expansion to help them grow. We've committed nearly $700,000 in North Gateway URA Grant Program funding to assist those companies and also connected them with other resources within our community.
Describe a few of your urban renewal projects.
- Design of improvements to McGilchrist Street within an existing industrial area, to support expansion of businesses in that area and improve traffic flow and access.
- Identifying, through the West Salem Business District Action Plan, ways to improve transportation connectivity in West Salem and also encourage redevelopment of vacant, underutilized buildings.
- Exploring (through the Salem Community Food Study) the feasibility of a public market and/or commercial kitchen facility, among other opportunities, to grow small, food related businesses in the North Gateway URA. And, exploring partnerships with Salem-Keizer Career and Technical Education Center.
- Partnering on events and outreach to support the growth of start-up businesses, including a new 'Start-up Salem Brew Talks' series.
What incentives encourage local business development?
Salem has a variety of incentives to help businesses grow. We work hard to get the word out about these incentives, through the real estate brokers, lenders, and our economic development partners. They are being used and for some pretty amazing projects — lots of success stories. We continually evaluate these programs and make adjustments as needed. Recent changes include expanding the eligibility and funding availability for projects in our North Gateway URA and West Salem URA. Both programs now offer grants of up to $300,000 for qualifying commercial and industrial building improvements.
Salem has a strong food business cluster. How is that cluster evolving and what are some of the area's other growth sectors?
I think that food processing and value added food and beverage industry will continue to evolve and play an important role. So much of the state's produce, grapes, and hops, are grown in the mid Willamette Valley. Salem companies like Oregon Fruit, Truitt Brothers, Kettle Foods, Fresh n Local Foods, are leading the way. I think you'll start to see growth in some of our other sectors as well, including technology, as well as a growing creative and start-up culture. I think recreational and food/agri-tourism will also grow. Salem is a great place to live and visit — I think more people will discover this!