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Tourism bright spot for Baker’s economy in 2009

Chamber of Commerce director says some businesses reported banner sales despite the national recession

The recession of 2009 turned out to be a Chicken Little story of sorts in Baker County, with strong tourism sales making up for declines in other sectors of the economy, according to the Baker County Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber Director Debi Bainter said many businesses experienced a slow start in 2009, but ended up beating their 2008 sales figures.

“June through August were strong tourism months with high visitor numbers at the Chamber of Commerce and up at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center,” Bainter said.

Gift shops at both the Interpretive Center and the Chamber of Commerce had banner sales months through September, and business didn’t slow until snow began to fall and visitor numbers dropped, Bainter said.

“I have heard from more than one business that (2009) was their best year yet,” Bainter said.

“Baker County’s (non-seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate has not risen above 10 percent during this recession, proving our mix of retail and manufacturing businesses are appropriate,” Bainter said.

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Kulongoski to cities: Show us the place for state offices, meetings

Governor’s order encourages state to move offices and schedule meetings in historic downtowns such as Baker City’s, but Kulongoski says state officials will rely on local residents for suggestions

It’s up to local officials, including those in Baker City, to provide data on historic districts or buildings where state agencies could have their offices or schedule meetings under the auspices of an executive order signed Wednesday by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

“Maintaining attractive and vibrant towns and cities — and preserving their history — has always been part of our character. Today, we add a new way of making it part of the mission of state government,” Kulongoski said prior to signing the executive order.

The order directs state agencies to strive to locate offices in historic downtown areas when it fits with the agency’s mission and is economically feasible.

The order also encourages state agencies to schedule meetings and conferences in historic downtown buildings.

“When we re-use historic buildings, we preserve their landmark qualities for the next generation. Historic buildings are non-renewable resources that should be conserved just as passionately as our natural resources,” Kulongoski said.

He said the order is also designed to give an economic boost to historic downtowns.

“Through the Oregon Main Street program — which is managed by our State Historic Preservation Office — we are partnering with local communities to rebuild downtowns, not just as tourist attractions — but as real centers of commerce and government,” Kulongoski said.

Roger Roper, deputy state historic preservation officer, said the Historic Preservation Office is the lead agency charged with implementing Kulongoski’s executive order.

Roper said the order seeks to simplify the site selection process so agencies will call the historic preservation office in the initial stages of selecting sites.

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Ski Anthony owners say price hikes necessary

Owners say they’ve been operating the ski resort at a small but consistent loss since they bought it in 1998

With almost 5 feet of snow on the slopes, the triple chairlift is running and the cross- country trails are groomed and ready for skiers at Ski Anthony Lakes.

Although some fees have gone up at the resort, it’s still a bargain among Northwest ski areas, said general manager Bill Junnila.

“The biggest change is in the all mountain ticket prices, which went up from $35 to $39,” Junnila said. “That’s the main one. The rest are pretty nominal.

“Even with the increases we are still substantially under the cost to ski as our nearest competitor — Bluewood ski area outside Dayton, Wash., at $42,” he said.

Junnila said the season pass prices won’t change for this year, but will increase for the 2010-11 season.

The resort’s owners said the price increases were necessary to reverse their small, but consistent, operating losses.

“We just recognized that we have been losing money on the resort for the past 10 years, and we decided we had to do something to stem the losses,” said Lee Kearney of Vancouver, Wash., who owns the ski area along with his wife, Connie, and partners, Kim and Dana Kutsch of Jefferson, Ore., and Parke and Gail Ball, also of Vancouver, Wash.

“It isn’t losing a huge amount of money. It almost breaks even, so the fee increases are minimal,” Lee Kearney said.

While the three families own the resort buildings, chair lift and business, they lease the property from the U.S. Forest Service.

Lee Kearney said all of the owners have strong ties to the ski resort and to the Baker area.

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Jeweler to close La Grande store

Don McClure says his Baker City store is healthier and will remain open

LA GRANDE — Don’s Jewelry, a well-established retail business in La Grande’s downtown, will shut its doors by the end of the year.

Owner Don McClure said he is closing the store he has operated at 1216 Adams Ave. since the late-1990s for a variety of reasons, including sluggish sales during the current economic downturn.

 McClure’s Baker City jewelry store will remain open. He said running two stores at once proved too much.

“Due to these poor economic times and some health issues, I’m left with no other option but to downsize and simplify by closing the original La Grande location and focusing my efforts on the Baker store,” McClure said. He said he has developed high blood pressure which, fortunately, is “very treatable.”

McClure was born in Milton-Freewater and moved with his family to La Grande in 1971. In 1975, the family moved to Newberg. McClure graduated from Newberg High in 1976.

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Durkee doldrums: Locals fear Ash Grove layoffs will doom businesses


DURKEE — At the Hungry Redneck Cafe, one of two businesses left in Durkee, Bozcho “Bo” Lettunich has seen his sales drop more than 30 percent since officials at the nearby Ash Grove Cement plant announced plans to lay off 68 of the factory’s 116 workers in mid-December.

“I have fewer customers coming in from Ash Grove. People are scared. They don’t know what will happen with these layoffs,” Lettunich said.

The Ash Grove plant is one of the larger private employers in Baker County.

In Durkee Valley, about 23 miles southeast of Baker City along Interstate 84, it’s very nearly the only one.

Durkee also has a post office, the Hungry Redneck Cafe and the combination Nyssa Co-op and Durkee General Store.

Lettunich said business was pretty brisk during the first three years after he opened the Hungry Redneck in a building that formerly housed a restaurant called the Wagon Wheel.

“I had 18 to 20 Ash Grove workers who were regulars. They came in almost every day after the shift change (at 4 p.m.),” he said.

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Deadline nears to apply for job-training grants


The deadline is fast approaching for employers or workers in Baker, Union and Wallowa counties to apply for job training grants available through the Training Employment Consortium.

Applications must be submitted by Wednesday, Nov. 25, to be eligible for a share of $54,000 in matching grants for employers in the three counties to train their existing workers to improve skills or advance to higher-paying positions, or for matching scholarships available directly to workers wanting to get training to advance to a higher-paying occupation or position.

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‘Ideal Partners’ providing in-home care

Business owners Linda Hudson and Marilyn Spicer presented at November PubTalk

A new business called Ideal Partners In Home Care is providing services to make it easier for the elderly or people with health problems to stay in their homes.

The business, operated by Linda Hudson and Marilyn Spicer, was featured during the last PubTalk meeting of the year Thursday night at Crossroads Carnegie Art Center.

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Use caution when using social networking sites

Twitter and Facebook Web sites provide venues for promoting business as well as personal connections, but Linked-In and Constant Contact are the preferred sites for professionals who spoke during the last PubTalk meeting of the year.

During the Thursday evening PubTalk at the Crossroads Carnegie Art Center, professionals versed in the ins and outs of using social and business networking sites described how they use Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and Constant Contact to promote their career objectives, market companies, products or services, promote events, seminars, workshops and  keep in contact with business associates and potential clients.

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Baker’s eclectic mix garners publicity in print, and online

Baker City’s reputation as an eclectic destination for tourists, particularly those interested in history, gained a boost recently with attention from Oregon’s largest newspaper, as well as a pair of magazines and a travel Web site.

Local attractions and businesses have been highlighted on the Vintage Road Trip Web site, in Portland Monthly and Wine Press Northwest magazines, and by columnist Gerry Frank in The Sunday Oregonian.

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Sid Johnson & Co. receives state recogntion

The business earned the Excellence in Family Business award from OSU

Sid Johnson & Co. of Baker City is one of six Oregon companies and three individuals receiving recognition from the oldest family business awards program in the nation – Oregon State  University’s Austin Family Business Program’s Excellence in Family Business Awards.

OSU’s College of Business announced the awards for 2009 Thursday. Winners and finalists will be formally recognized at an awards dinner Nov. 19 at the Oregon Zoo.

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