We sat down with Brooks Resources president & CEO Kirk Schueler to talk about what’s going on in Bend, Oregon from a growth, infrastructure, business and housing perspective. With nearly 30 years in the region, his view is that these critical issues, while disrupted a bit by COVID-19, will eventually balance out as they always have done.
How is the growth we are experiencing now different than before?
There have historically been periods of rapid growth in our area, and the reasons people move here remain the same: great lifestyle, recreation, access to amenities – just to name a few. Right now, there is an added element: the huge national surge of people who are working from home. This has caused some individuals and their employers to recognize that where an employee works from is not important, so many are seeking new places to live that fit their lifestyle. Bend is near the top of the list. This means the growth we are experiencing now could look a bit different than it has in the past, as the makeup of the population and their daily habits (e.g. no commute) may vary. However, like any period of growth, we are feeling the strain in several key areas.
What about infrastructure concerns?
When you consider the possible impact of growth on infrastructure at any particular time, you have to include the current and expected conditions. Right now, for example, we have passed the recent transportation bond. This is an essential piece of the puzzle, and the $190 million voter-approved bond is a huge step in creating the transportation infrastructure needed to accommodate growth. Also, as I mentioned previously, there is this whole work-from-home aspect. Will it change the transportation and traffic patterns we’ve seen historically with commuters? It’s entirely possible.
Another top infrastructure concern is always education. Can our schools handle the growth? We are actually in a good position right now in the Bend LaPine district with schools already under construction, such as the new Caldera High School, and middle and elementary schools are in the planning stages as well. The district has been proactive in planning for future growth and trying to stay ahead of the curve.
Small businesses have taken a hit. What does the future look like for them?
Nationally, COVID-19 has severely impacted the profitability of many small businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, and we are seeing similar trends in Bend right now. There are a few reasons to believe that small businesses as a whole will make a resurgence. First, we know that commercial business growth is cyclical in nature, generally following residential growth. It’s no secret that the residential housing market is booming in our region, and historically that means that more businesses are not far behind to serve the new “rooftops.” In Bend, we also have a long history of entrepreneurism that remains today. Before working from home became so prevalent, people who wanted to live here had to get creative to find a way to make a living. This meant being innovative and forward-thinking, developing a business or service that fit a need. I think this entrepreneurial spirit in our culture remains.
In short, I’d like to think that when we lose small businesses, they will eventually fill back in. Bend on the whole is resilient, as some of the hardest hit businesses close, we will see new businesses opening up in the future to serve the growing community.
What about the housing challenge we are experiencing?
Inventory is extremely low in Central Oregon right now, and high demand is driving prices up. In fact, this is happening on a national scale, as we are still recovering from the production dip that occurred during the great recession. We lost a whole decade of housing production! This isn’t the only current pressure point. Populations are fleeing metropolitan areas to places like Bend and the large Millennial demographic is at a life stage where they are buying homes, adding even more demand. When you combine these types of trends, you can see where this housing shortage is originating.
We have experienced challenges like this in the past, although the pandemic has created a large amount of unknowns. What happens if we emerge from COVID and resume 90% of our normal lifestyles? Do people stop coming and stay in metro areas? It’s difficult to speculate on this, but we will start to see this unfold over the next several months as the pandemic comes under control (we hope!).
Right now, according to the City of Bend, we have about 5,000 housing units in some stage of development in the city, including the 2,380 acres of developable land that were included in the 2016 urban growth boundary expansion. The expansion allows for the eventual addition of about 17,000 residential units. This will take some of the pressure off from a low inventory standpoint, but it is true that supply is definitely going to have a hard time catching up with demand in Central Oregon.
He concluded, “Any setbacks in our fight against the pandemic could alter our expectations, negatively or positively, when it comes to the real estate market and other trends occurring in our region. Beating the pandemic and restoring the economy are essential to progress, forward movement and overall healing.”
Kirk Schueler, President & CEO
A long-time employee of the company from 1993-2010, Kirk returned to Brooks in 2016 to provide leadership and work with the board and management team members to establish long-range goals, strategies, plans and policies. After his initial 17 years with Brooks Resources, where he held the roles of Controller, Chief Financial Officer and then President, Kirk joined St. Charles Health Care System as Chief Administrative Officer in 2010. In 2014, he started his own consulting firm and then served as the Chief Financial Officer for Mosaic Medical. Kirk has a forestry degree from the University of Nevada and an accounting degree from the University of Oregon. He currently serves as a trustee of Oregon State University.