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Who are we planning for?

Commercial development in Keizer, especially along its main thoroughfare, River Road, is uneven at best. Undeniably there is new development: the new Starbucks with a drive through; Willamette Valley Appliance (nee Mole’s) has remodeled and relocated to a larger space at River Road and Sunset Drive.

The new owners of Schoolhouse Square, at River and Chemawa Roads, is recruiting new tenants to the once-fading shopping center. A new building pad will be constructed at the southeast corner of the property which will house two businesses new to Keizer—Jersey Mike’s restaurant and The Human Bean coffee shop. BFit moved into Schoolhouse Square earlier this year.

But Keizer’s main commercial strip still has some big holes to fill. Creekside Center (River Road and Lockhaven Drive) has slowly been slipping into irrelavancy with the loss of an anchor grocery store as well as other small businesses.

River Road has been a main focus of the city’s Economic Development Commission with Cherry Avenue also getting some attention. There are some realities that people need to remember: Keizer and its commission can wish all they want for certain types of retailers, developments and businesses that will bring needed jobs into our city limits, however they have few arrows in their quiver to use to make that happen.

Unlike cities and counties across the country, Keizer does not have tax breaks to offer, no discounts on business licenses. All the city has to offer is some leeway on costs of required city permits. The tools that need to be welded are either politically difficult or controversial. The politically difficult route is to expand the Urban Growth Boundary to the north of city limits. Any expansion requires the acquiesance of Salem, Marion County and Polk County.  The controversial route is to rezone parts of the city to allow certain types of construction and development.

The Economic Development Commission and other groups interested in the growth of Keizer need to change their focus from what to build to who and how to attract the types of businesses that will offer high wage jobs for Keizer residents. How can we discuss building when we do not know who will want them.

We have strongly advocated for the city, the commission and the Chamber of Commerce to actively recruit new business. We call for a reconcerted effort. The Economic Development Commission partnering with the Keizer Chamber of Commerce should develop a short list of the categories of business that can be persuaded to come to Keizer.

The process starts with asking businesses what would make them locate here. What criteria needs to be met before they will commit to moving or building here? We must address the answers to those questions. Is it a lack of large-scale developable land? Is it a lack of skilled labor? Is it a question of shipping facilities? Keizer needs to get the answers and plan from there.

Could Keizer be home to a large call center or mega-warehouse if we had hundreds of acres to develop? If so, that tells us we need to redouble efforts to expand the Urban Growth Boundary and add millions of dollars to the city’s tax base not to mention hunderds of jobs.

Let’s not discuss what to build in Keizer today. Let us open a dialogue with the businesses Keizer wants tomorrow. Attracting light industry, biotech and medical should be the focus of any economic development plans.