Sisters on the radar for employers

 

Last updated 1/31/2023 at Noon

BILL BARTLETT

Commercial construction is transforming parts of Sisters.

Last October, The Nugget reported on the commercial construction boom in Sisters, with close to 100,000 square feet of new development rising out of the ground.

Some of these projects have spring delivery dates. Might they soon stand empty, glass-and-steel white elephants? When Laird’s 50,000 square feet of empty mixed-use space is included in the mix, one could wonder just who will come to fill them with workers, goods, or services.

Kevin Eckert knows something about development. He is the founder of Build LLC, architects and designers of Sisters Woodlands, a large-scale residential project that is readying the first six of 390 units. His resumé includes dozens of commercial and municipal projects.

Eckert said: “Bend is almost completely built out for the kinds of light industrial and commercial buildings going up in Sisters. Redmond is tight too. Sisters is a natural for employers, like pharmaceutical… clean, green businesses that look at Sisters as the ideal place to grow their business.”

He sees our schools as a major draw, along with a quality of life that is harder to find in Bend as it has grown, some say, to the breaking point.

Eric Strobel, associate director of EDCO-Sisters (Economic Development Central Oregon) has the full-time job of selling Sisters to businesses already in Central Oregon looking to expand or enterprises from a long distance seeking to lay down roots in Deschutes or Crook County.

Strobel says there is quite a bit of interest in Sisters, including some genuine prospects for the Laird complex on Lundgren Mill Road. Like Eckert, he counts Sisters schools as key to recruiting businesses.

That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, as our schools are already becoming comfortably full. A large-scale infusion of new families could put strains on the system. Curt Scholl, Sisters School District 6 superintendent, is already fretting about staffing, and told a recent gathering that he expects a severe teacher-shortage crisis in five years.

“If anything holds businesses back in signing off on Sisters, it’s the workforce,” Strobel told The Nugget.

Unless the job is managerial or professional in nature, those who can afford Sisters’ home prices, workers will still have to come from Redmond or Bend, a commute that is not currently feasible for lower-wage earners, Strobel elaborated.

He also sees more space in Sisters being taken up by the services industry — plumbers, electricians, cabinet makers, and the like, many already here and growing out of their current location.

Indeed, Ponderosa Plumbing will occupy two of six bays in the 41,000-square-foot Lot 5 building underway in Three Peaks Industrial Park and will build out 3,798 square feet of warehouse space and 3,056 square feet of showroom and office on the first floor, plus 2,972 square feet of office on the second floor.

Eckert says he knows of at least two major employers in Sisters who are at maximum capacity and will have no choice but to expand into new space. Those two are joined by another large employer at Eagle Airport, Energyneering, experiencing rapid growth and bulging at the seams.

Rob Moneyhan, a developer in Lake Oswego, is not put off by a slowing national economy. He purchased the three lots to the east of Laird from the maker of specialty foods who recently moved its production to Utah for logistical reasons.

Moneyhan doesn’t expect to have units built out until 2024. Some of the space will be demised to as little as 900 square feet, just the kind of commercial rental property suited for one-to-four-employee operations like insurance agents, mortgage brokers, or medical practitioners.

As Sisters inevitably grows, it will need more of these kinds of businesses to cater to the new arrivals, Strobel explains. He sees the whole of northeast Sisters being the commercial hub of Sisters Country.

The area is already thriving with the additions in the last few years of Fika Sisters Coffeehouse, the Sisters Coffee Co. roastery, Holy Kakow, Funky Fauna, HomeStyle Furnishings, The Kitchen Table, Gallacher Plumbing, and The 1687 Foundation. Several artists have studios in the quadrant.

Jed and Layne Cook Johnson, post-retiree artists, are keen on Sisters’ potential. They are about halfway finished for 2,666 square feet being built as a two-story, live-work structure next door to Bird Gard. The Johnsons will occupy the space, living upstairs with their studio and workshop downstairs. They will sell the remaining three lots in the parcel to similar users.

EDCO is the primary clearing house for businesses looking to make a footprint in Sisters. Both Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Sisters occasionally get the first inquiry, but eventually it winds up at EDCO.

“It’s a team effort,” Strobel said.

 

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