Don’t underestimate liveability
An area’s liveability is one of its most precious assets
When Stuart and Chris Freedman decided to move their thriving bead business from Southern California in the early 1980s, they knew what they wanted their new home to look like. “The first criteria was that it had to be a place where the people were inherently friendly,” remembers Stuart Freedman. “Our model was friendly service, and we didn’t know how to train that. The second was we wanted to live in a place that is just like where you would go on vacation.”
Over the next five years, the couple took a series of trips throughout the United States, “from the Hawaiian Islands to Virgin Islands and many places in between,” Freedman says.
They ended up in Oregon—first in Cave Junction, then, as their business expanded rapidly, in Grants Pass. Today, Fire Mountain Gems and Beads is an international direct-marketing company that produces one of the best-known jewelry making catalogs in the world. It is also one of Grants Pass’ largest companies, employing 500 workers.
The bottom line can be summed up in three words: quality of life
Economic development experts realize that there are many factors influencing a business’ decision to relocate. For some, it’s a favorable business climate, characterized by generous tax incentives, friendly zoning laws and a qualified workforce.
But for many business owners like the Freedmans, the decision to relocate is a more personal one.
From urban to rural
More than 18 million people moved from metropolitan areas into small cities or rural counties during the 1990s, says Jack Shultz, author of Boomtown USA. “The bottom line can be summed up in three words: quality of life.”
Quality of life is that amorphous phrase that characterizes healthy, happy and thriving communities. For some people, quality of life in rural areas is defined by little traffic, small populations and lower cost of living. For others, it is a community’s priority on its citizens: good health care, for example, or resources for young and old residents. Others find their quality of life enhanced by recreational opportunities that are valued and cared for.
In a Central Oregon study often cited in tourism circles, more than 70 percent of new businesses that moved to the Bend area in the early 1990s came after business owners first visited the area on vacation.
Economic development agencies know that an area’s liveability is one of its most precious assets. In a recent business recruitment campaign in Southern Oregon, the first mailing that went out to targeted businesses didn’t highlight financial advantages for relocation—the first thing that hit their mailbox was the Southern Oregon Vacation Guide.
“What we offer in the way of recreation, amenities and cultural offerings reinforces what businesses are looking for,” says Carolyn Hill, CEO of the Southern Oregon Visitors Association.
Hospitals and the medical community are often rich resources when it comes to adding to a community’s quality of life—many offer free classes and other resources for helping community members lead healthy, active lifestyles.
“Moving for the quality of life was the best decision we ever made,” Stuart Freedman says. “We think it added five or 10 years to our lives, and they are very pleasant years.”