Corvallis Business: Startups & Housing, Pandemic Restrictions Persist, Willamette Innovators Network Bring Sullivan Brothers for Talk – The Corvallis Advocate

The State of Oregon, in an effort to meet greenhouse gas emission goals, has mandated that metro areas more clearly dictate their rules for parking. While there was concern that Corvallis would lose its metropolitan designation after the 2020 census, with a population over 95,000, the City easily meets the 50,000 population threshold, and so the City Council had to comply with the State.   
According to the State, “‘Parking mandates’ means requirements to include a minimum number of off-street parking spaces with development or redevelopment, or a fee-in-lieu of providing parking for residential development.” 
Therefore the City had to decide whether to eliminate all minimum parking requirements citywide or to eliminate minimum parking requirements along those transit areas most used. At the latest council meeting it was decided to eliminate all minimum parking requirements.  

Some in the business community have said that it feels at times like the City wants everyone to “get on a bike” to run their errands. As anyone with a family can attest, that doesn’t make sense sometimes – particularly in the winter months.   
“It’s one of the barriers for the low income families that we serve – that if they don’t have access to a vehicle, it’s really difficult to manage,” said Helen Higgins of the Boys & Girls Club. “Jobs, picking kids up, getting kids to doctor’s appointments, it’s really hard. But then you weigh it with [the fact that] we’re also trying to increase housing….”  
Developers are the people in this issue who end up paying more. They have to manage a budget within the scope of what the government will allow and what City residents will be willing to accept. 
Samantha Alley, who works at RE/MAX in Downtown, said about the parking situation that “as long as you get to work before 7:30 a.m., you’re fine to get a parking spot, but then everybody who works at the Post Office [will] fill up all of the free parking”, leaving several blocks of SW 2nd St. full for any commercial use during the work week.   
Alley added, “It’s a tough deal, but it’s pretty much acknowledged in commercial real estate circles that, if you want a good location, you’re going to have parking problems. Period.”  
In the other sector, the issue doesn’t seem to affect the employees to as large of an extent. The City has bus routes to HP, Oregon State University, and Samaritan – the top three employers in town. When cuts are made, the bus routes to these businesses will likely not be on the chopping block.   
“But the house I live in,” Aaron Moore of Revolution Robotics said, “you can’t go to the store without a car. There’s no way to bring groceries back.”  
One element that certainly hasn’t helped the parking situation in Moore’s opinion was that OSU built several buildings on space that were parking lots without replacing the parking spots.  
Now, the State and the City are working in conjunction to try and build the ability for more high density housing through both this parking protocol shift and Commercial Mixed Use (CMU) zoning.    
The Grocery Store Conundrum: In North Corvallis, there are several grocery stores clustered together, while there are few places in South Corvallis to buy groceries.   
According to Alley, “In the comprehensive plan, when all of the shopping centers were put in, the city was planned to grow north more than it was planned to grow south. Then a lot of people bought their homes in the northern areas and decided they did not want [the city] to grow that way, and they passed the vote on annexation.”  
The vote on annexation meant that for the last 30 years, every development proposed in Corvallis was put to a vote of the people. With a more politically active population base in North Corvallis than in South Corvallis, subdivisions proposed to the north were voted down, while development in the south grew.  
What does this mean for business people? Perhaps the direction to look now is south. South Corvallis is hungry for development of key types of business – grocery stores in particular. In fact, the area known as the Old Auction Yard was in the stages of planning a grocery store as the anchor to a small shopping center in South Corvallis, when the planning broke down. Now the lot is zoned CMU, although the goal of an anchor store that could benefit the area is unlikely to be realized as housing developments around the lot have crept into the edges to the point where there is no longer enough land for that type of shopping center. 
The way they do the comprehensive plan is in 20 year chucks. It determines what is believed the City will need over the upcoming 20 years, then arranges where the pieces will go. The plan is reevaluated every 20 years.  
The Startup question: The days of startups living in dank basements and grungy garages have passed, and they now begin their lives in offices with empty desks that need to be filled. And often, these businesses need to look outside of their immediate area to get the right people into those desk chairs. According to Forbes, the average startup takes six months to hire its first employee. But what if you have the perfect candidate and can’t get them to move to town?  
“We’re losing business opportunities,” said Higgins. “You can’t grow a startup in Corvallis… There are no incentives – what are we doing for tax incentives for builders to build or to help with the infrastructure, [with] the SDC costs? We don’t do anything to put the infrastructure in place for us to grow. So, how many startups do we see start then leave the community because you can’t attract a workforce. You’ve got young professionals and they can’t find a place to live [affordably].” 
“The housing prices recently have pushed [so] even high-tech, well-paying, big-office jobs can’t necessarily afford the houses,” Moore added. 
As we approach the point where only the one-percent of the one-percent can afford to buy houses in the City, the questions become where will our small businesses find people able to afford to drive in from less expensive towns and why would those people want to drive in.  
“I think it’s really dangerous for this community to not open up more housing and aggressively open up land,” said Higgins. “How do you target and reserve housing for your workforce, because there are climate refugees coming in from everywhere into Oregon and people love the small college town atmosphere. So, if we just build more houses then investors and people coming in from outside are just going to buy up those homes. And I’m not saying bar the doors, [but] how do you reserve housing for your workforce so the entrepreneurs and startups and the $50,000 per year person can actually afford to live in this community.”  
However, the idea of reserved housing isn’t an option for small businesses or startups.   
Concerning the opportunities available to startups, Moore said it comes down to, “Can I afford to pay enough of a salary so they can afford a down payment on their house and that they can keep paying for that house. When I started my business it was at a good time where my guys were able to do that. Today when I hire someone, I don’t know if our salary really enables them to buy and stay in Corvallis.”  
So what is an alternative?  

Pandemic Effects Still in Play: The pandemic saw an unprecedented number of workers coming to grips with working from their homes, and the effects of that are still impacting companies. 
As companies opened up again for in-person work, many people have begun to refuse to go back. They’ve found that they prefer to be in a home office, near the kitchen for lunch, able to see the kids when they come home from school. It also means that a worker can live wherever in the world they want.   
However, a Microsoft study showed that there are drawbacks to a remote workplace. Looking at data from over 61,000 employees from prior to the lockdown and today, they found that people working from home had fewer real-time communications with other team members. They also found that there were more difficulties in sharing information between departments. This led to decreased creativity and fewer innovations.  
On the plus side, people working from home did tend to work more hours, and the level of communication via email and instant messages went up. For Microsoft, the end result was to offer employees the option of where they wanted to work, then maintaining a work environment friendly to both sides of the coin.   
WIN Business Event: Come on out Tuesday, Oct. 11, to meet Joseph and Kevin Sullivan – local brothers who have created several businesses.  
This is the next event from Willamette Innovators Network, which will begin with a talk from the Misters Sullivan about how they came up with their ideas and built their companies. After the talk, stick around to meet other local entrepreneurs over a drink at the Old World Deli, located at 341 SW 2nd St. 
This event starts at 6 p.m.  
Chamber Events: Coming this week from the Chamber of Commerce…   
Greeters this week will be hosted by the IMB Team at Benchwarmers Bar & Grill, located at 1895 NW 9th St. Like every Tuesday, the October 11 Greeters will run from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m. 
Oct. 12, join Veronica Hennessey at the Biere Library from 5 – 7 p.m. for the Growth & Mindset Book Club for Business. This month, the group will be discussing “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. 
Also on Oct. 12, from 5 – 6:30 p.m., is a screening of the film “Prison Terminal” courtesy of Lumina Hospice and Palliative Care. The film is a documentary about a man needing hospice care while in prison and the others who stepped up to assist. There will be a panel discussion following the film. Registration for this virtual event can be found here.  
By Sally K Lehman 
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