COVID-19’s Impact on our Communities

City Club members joined together virtually to explore the resilience of Central Oregon with the City Managers of the six largest cities — Bend, Redmond, Prineville, Madras, Sisters and La Pine. Panelists included:

  • Melissa Bethel: LaPine City Manager
  • Gus Burril: Madras City Administrator
  • Steve Forrester: Prineville City Manager
  • Eric King: Bend City Manager
  • Cory Misley: Sisters City Manager
  • Keith Witcosky: Redmond City Manager

The Regional Manager Forum was moderated by Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council executive director, Tammy Baney. The forum revealed that though every community has been affected differently, each one is focused on safety and recovery.

Economic keystones such as the Crooked River Roundup and Sisters Folk Festival have been canceled. The City of Madras postponed the proposal a food and beverage tax on the May primary election ballot. La Pine residents were lined out the door to support restaurants with takeout services. To better serve vulnerable populations, Bend has increased homeless outreach efforts. COVID-19 has impacted our communities in a variety of ways.

 Lessons Learned

From all corners of Central Oregon, it is evident that the biggest lesson learned is the importance of partnerships. There has been resource-sharing between regions but also within regions such as sharing technology platforms to bolster up online retail for small businesses. Public and private sectors have come together to establish consistent communication channels that have enabled inclusive and safe decision-making. City managers also stressed the importance of budget contingencies and reserves. They have been able to be responsive to their communities’ most critical needs as a result.

Looking Forward

As Central Oregon moves from a state of response to recovery, City managers agreed our communities will aim to strengthen connections between public health and economic development. With safety as the primary priority, leaders will work toward developing community confidence in whatever the new normal may be. We may not be ready to assemble en mass as we once did for the community events we hold dear, but safe substitutes are being explored.

An economy that relies heavily on tourism can be precarious in a state of emergency. Regional leaders emphasized economic diversification and tourism resiliency as key areas of growth. One city manager compared the recovery process to a marathon, as opposed to a sprint.

There are future opportunities for Central Oregon’s economy. For example, the Bend City Council voted to pull a $190 million transportation bond off the May ballot, but the groundwork of that bond may pave the way for other stimulus funding. Another city manager surmised that the housing market may experience growth as more urbanites see value in living in more rural communities post-pandemic.

Ways You Can Engage

As we all weigh in on what recovery looks like – remember to approach your fellow humans with civility – check out City Club’s tools for the Civility Project!

Special thank you to Forum Presenting Sponsors Steele Associates Architects, Miller Lumber, Ashley & Vance Engineering and Empire Construction & Development; and to Forum Supporting Sponsors Flagline Engineering, Acuity Wealth Advisors and SunWest Builders for helping create this important conversation!