A 1,000-year plan for Willapa Bay

  • Alana Probst

    Bill Wagner

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Alana Probst works for the nonprofit Ecotrust and looks for ways a community can create sustainable businesses.

Alana Probst: "When I worked in Eugene, Ore., in the early '80s, I learned the hard way that recruiting industry can be a nightmare. The whole city turned out for a party when we brought in executives from a chocolate company. We flew them in, hired architects for them, gave them tax credits and free salaries for a year, plus we built them a road. Then it turned out these same folks had torched their last plant. They were indicted for arson and never came.

"That's what got me started working with existing businesses, creating jobs one by one. I didn't know it was called 'import substitution'; it just made sense.

"I saw all these thousands of students in Eugene wearing daypacks, yet not one was made locally. We never did the backpacks - couldn't get the quantity buyer - but the first year I picked about 20 businesses like that and tried to do deals. We brought about $2 million back to the economy just on deals where businesses could produce something they didn't before. For instance: We found out that all the band uniforms came from back East and were all wool. In Oregon, it rains a lot, and wet wool isn't fun. I got a clothing manufacturer to design band uniforms out of Gore-Tex for the University of Oregon.

"I didn't take import substitution over to Willapa because you can't find the deals so easily in a rural area. There's more diversity in a community the size of Eugene, and import substitution requires a lot more secondary manufacturing.

"In Willapa, we're trying to build skills from logging and fishing to canning and processing and marketing, while we add value to the products such as cranberries, oysters and salmon.

"When you're innovating, though, it's harder to get money - particularly in an area that's almost been blackballed by banks. People who have been in fishing, farming and logging are the people who are the most risky. If you buy into a chain like McDonalds, most banks will welcome your business.

"We've gone into this process in Willapa with a 1,000-year plan. Because if you think of the natural cycles of a cedar tree, it's 1,000 years. They are the oldest thing in the ecosystem. We need to take those life cycles into account and try to relate that to our business plan."

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