By Katy Brooks, CEO, Bend Chamber
This article originally appeared in Cascade Business News on February 2, 2022.
The Bend Chamber of Commerce spent 2021 ramping up our mainstay leadership, networking, advocacy and resource programs impacted in the first year of COVID. But we spent much of our energy working on longer-term issues that have taken a toll on employers and the workforce.
The labor shortage has been a significant challenge for Bend employers. Although reasons for the shortage are complex, the most prevalent are our growing childcare and housing shortages. And neither issue is an easy one to fix. They need collective, sustained effort to resolve — an effort the Chamber has taken a leadership role to convene.
The lack of childcare in Central Oregon and Bend has long been a problem — even before COVID. But it became even more critical as providers went out of business and COVID protocols forced significant restrictions on operations and capacity of childcare facilities. For the past few years, the Chamber has worked with a coalition of childcare, higher education, childcare agencies and other organizations to develop new childcare models that will add openings for families and bolster the depleted labor pool. This partnership successfully lobbied for nearly $7 million from Senator Tim Knopp and the Deschutes County Commission for federal funds that jump-started a program carried out by multiple organizations to add much-needed childcare slots in the region. It also funded a program to incentivize more people to enter the early learning and childcare field, supplying much-need labor at multiple childcare facilities.
Housing is also a complex issue that will require a collective effort on many fronts to tackle. We all know the cost of housing is a growing factor impacting who lives and works in Bend. In the fall of 2021, the Chamber conducted a poll to assess how residents feel about accommodating more people in Bend by creating more housing in existing residential areas as well as developing an urban core where height and density could mean thousands more places for people to live. This year the Chamber will continue work including a multi-pronged approach that will focus on creative housing solutions and new policies to support workforce housing.
Another role of the Chamber is to perpetuate a culture of involvement and collaboration in our business community. Together with a group of partners, we will launch Bend 101 this spring. It is essentially a primer on Bend and is tailored as a resource and introduction to those newly joining or hoping to join the Bend workforce.
Regardless of the pandemic, the Chamber didn’t take a break on nurturing leadership. The 2021 graduating class of Leadership Bend completed their year with a class project that looked at the systemic underpinnings of homelessness. And the Bend Young Professionals group carried on with our annual summit and professional development programming, despite the need to go virtual at times.
Although the legislature was closed to the public last year, the Chamber tracked over 100 bills on topics including taxes, housing, childcare, economic development and employee issues. We conducted virtual visits between our business members and legislators and provided testimony on nearly 40 bills.
Meanwhile, the Chamber completed a rebrand, complete with a new website and logo. And while we saw about a 6.4% drop in membership, we are now back to a growth trajectory. All this while onboarding five new staff members and moving from downtown to our new location across the street from OSU-Cascades.
If you would like to join our efforts to make Bend a place where businesses and their employee thrive, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.