Comparing Bend to Roanoke

With Deschutes Brewery coming to Roanoke, we have at least two opportunities to evaluate where the region is and where we are going, economically speaking.

One, to take the pulse of Roanoke’s efforts to re-brand itself as an outdoors-oriented economy where people would want to live and play and do business. Two, to see what impact Deschutes’ presence in Roanoke might have going forward.

If we look at Bend, Deschutes’ home base, it appears as if the two are so intertwined that it is impossible to see one without the other.

As we detail on WSLS 10  this week the major success story that was Deschutes selecting Roanoke as its East Coast location, we should at least attempt to glimpse the opportunities that lie ahead for the Star City.

Today, Bend is known for its microbreweries; however, 30 years ago, “it was a very blue-collar kind of town. A very ‘Bud Light’ kind of town,” said Deschutes CEO and Founder Gary Fish during an interview at his office in Bend.

In fact, Bend spent most of the 20th century as a blue-collar town that depended upon the logging industry.

Timber mills on either side of the Deschutes River, just outside of downtown, processed the lumber, providing relatively high-paying jobs.

“Like Roanoke and your transition from the railroad, we were at timber town. Then the timber went away and all those great-paying jobs that didn’t require a college education, not even a high-school education, and you made great wages,” said Roger Lee, Executive Director of EDCO, the economic development arm for Central Oregon.

“When that all went away, the area had to reinvent itself. And I think Deshutes Brewery was an early entrant in doing that,” continued Lee.

Lee described Bend’s growth as a “30-year overnight success story.”

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Today, the city’s economy is driven by the brew culture, which includes 22 craft brewers, including Deschutes, a burgeoning high-tech sector and tourism driven by the region’s outdoor culture.

To be sure, other factors helped Bend grow as it re-defined itself.  Nearby ski area, Mount Bachelor, certainly helped anchor the outdoorsy nature of the city.  But there is something about skiing, backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking – you name it — that goes hand in hand with craft brewing. For whatever reason, they seem to attract the same crowd.

Visit Bend CEO Kevney Dugan, himself a trail runner and mountain biker agrees, “I think there’s just something natural how about you go for a long run, you’re out in the woods, and what better way to end that experience than to get together with your friends over a cold beer?”

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Dugan said that the city’s brand is clearly that of a mountain brew town.  And it must be working because Deschutes County was the seventh fastest growing county in the United States in 2015.

“You know that craft culture, kind of that independent theme that a place like Bend has, a lot of us seek out that experience. New beers, different beers, beers you’ve never heard of. So I think that you’re checking out a new trail in the morning and then in the afternoon you’re meeting up with your buddies for the latest IPA,” continued Dugan.

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Others agree. “The Deschutes brewery has clearly played a critical role in our development here in Central Oregon,” Roger Lee told me as we sat on the patio outside his office looking down on the Deschutes River as Canada Geese flew over before pitching into the river below.

What does that mean for Roanoke?  It’s hard to say, but we can be hopeful that the Star City’s recruitment of Deschutes might yield similar results to Bend.

So far, the emphasis has mostly been on the 107 new jobs that will be coming once Deschutes builds and opens its new facility in Roanoke. There is also the promise of a tasting room in the near future, where we will be able to buy a drought beer, and the very popular Deschutes-branded merchandise such as t-shirts, pint glasses and so forth.

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Further down the road there will be a full-fledged Deschutes Public House like those in Bend and Portland.

But what about the bigger picture? There’s no doubt that as Bend lost the lumber industry, Roanoke lost the railroad. 

Like Bend, Roanoke is embracing and promoting the outdoor attractions that come with a location in the mountains.  We need look no further than the Blue Ridge Marathon, the Go Outside Festival, the new kayak launch near Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and the stand-up paddle boarders you now see tooling through Smith Park on the Roanoke River.  In addition, Roanoke has begun to unseat Ashville as the predominant city along the Blue Ridge Parkway, winning the title of Best Adventure Town in a contest held by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine.

In economic development circles, the hope is that people will be attracted by the region’s amenities – in the case of Roanoke, what’s now being called the “Metro Mountain Mix.”  Those visitors will like it here so much that they will re-locate in the Valley and open a business, or make themselves available for the workforce.  It’s important to remember that the number and quality of available workers is one of the key factors that businesses review when choosing a location.

People want to live in Bend so badly that they quit their jobs, uproot their families and move there without a job.

“It’s amazing the number of people who actually move here without work. In fact, in this organization, over the last 17 years, more than half the people I’ve hired originally came here without a job,” Lee told me.

There’s an adage that says of cities, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” When you consider that Bend’s population is among the fastest growing in the nation, compared to Roanoke’s which has more or less stalled, Bend is doing something right.  Viewed purely through the lens of brewing, consider that Bend has 22 craft breweries, while Roanoke has only two inside the city limits.

You could add a few more to Roanoke’s total if you include Salem, Vinton, and surrounding counties, but you could do the same for Bend.

Consider further that Roanoke has about 20,000 more people than Bend.

The point is not to compare Roanoke to Bend either favorably or unfavorably.

It’s to look at how Deschutes – and engine that drove growth in Oregon might have a similar impact here. To consider the vibe and interest a major brewery with a unique corporate culture and visionary leadership will make a difference – beyond the jobs and the tax revenue the company will bring.

Based upon the success in Central Oregon, we can hope that the impact on Roanoke goes much further than a couple of restaurants and 107 new jobs.

Take a look at just how similar the two cities on opposite sides of the country are.

Bend Topic Roanoke
87,014 Population*  99,897
$52,471 Median household income # $39,530
2,279.8 Population per square mile, 2010 2,322.0
Deschutes River River running through city Roanoke River
St. Charles Medical Center – Bend Top Employer Roanoke Memorial Community Hospital
51.78% Homes Owned ^ 50.17%
37.7 Median age ^ 38.4

* July 1, 2015 estimate according to Census.gov

# (In 2014 dollars), 2010-2014

^ Bestplaces.net

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