Over the last few decades, Oregon has lost several company headquarters — think Louisiana Pacific or Oregon Steel Mills.
Each time it happens, the state loses hundreds of jobs with good salaries.
But some economic engines can’t just up and leave.
Like Mt. Hood.
In our continuing look at the mountain’s economic impact, that we’re calling “Mt. Hood Inc.,” Kristian Foden-Vencil heads to the mountain to find out how many jobs it creates.
People who’ve been driving up to Mt. Hood for years on Highway 26, probably remember the Shamrock Motel.
It was a collection of small old cabins between Sandy and Brightwood where this guilty reporter once dumped visiting parents.
But the little yellow huts and big green shamrock aren’t there anymore. The whole place has been taken over by one of the mountain’s fastest growing companies: Windells.
Windells is a camp for kids who’re into snowboarding, BMX, skiing and skate boarding.
Vice President Rachel Lemons gives the grand tour.
Rachel Lemons: “We are looking at one of the largest skate parks here in Oregon. We’ve been constructing this for about a year and a half. And what’s beautiful about the skate park is that it’s really built around the trees and the existing buildings that we have here.”
Kristian Foden-Vencil: “Well and also, it’s like you come and stay in a hotel, you’ve got a little room. But you walk out and you literally walk onto the stake park.”
Rachel Lemons: “Right. It’s amazing in the summertime. We’d invite you to come back in the summertime and we’ve got 200-plus people just skating everywhere.”
Tim Windells is the brains behind this booming outfit. He was raised in Boulder and became a professional snowboarder in the late 80’s.
But instead of setting up shop in Colorado, he chose Mt. Hood — because he can ski year round and the glaciers face south — so he can soak up the rays and shred at the same time.
Tim Windells: “When we first started off there was a lot of friction. There was a ton of friction. We bought our first motel, which was the Oregon Ark Motel and everybody was telling us how that place was going to go out of business and we’re going to mess it up and we’re going to bring in the drunks and drug addicts. Well, what we found out was there were a ton of drunks and drug addicts already.”
But that friction was 20 years ago and locals will now tell you that the motels have been fixed up and business has increased.
During the peak season for example, about 140 people work here. They’re looking after another 150 snowboarders who buy food, outerwear and entertainment on the mountain.
It all makes for a strong economic engine. So if the mountain — or Mt. Hood Inc. as we’re calling it — decided to leave, it would all be gone.
But it’s not just big businesses that would be hurt. Small operations would also suffer — like the Mt. Hood Coffee Roasters in Rhododendron.
Rick Applegate cranks up his coffee roasting machine, turns on an extractor fan, and invites me to breathe in the aroma.
Rick Applegate: “Okay I just turned the elements off and look at the smoke that’s just pouring out of that. And if you step outside.”
Kristian Foden-Vencil: “Oh, you can see the smoke everywhere. And oh, the smell. That would bring the customers in.”
Rick Applegate: “The sweet smell of coffee right there.”
Applegate says that he, his wife and their full-time staff member, would all be out of work if there were no Mt. Hood.
Rick Applegate: “It think it’s more significant than people realize. It’s an untapped resource for the Portland area. Boy, putting a number on it would be difficult, I imagine there are several thousand jobs that are attached to it.”
To pin down the number of jobs Mt. Hood creates, I turned to Dallas Fridley. He’s an economist with the Oregon Employment Department.
He uses an economic model from the Forest Service.
Think of it like a black box.
You tap in what kinds of recreation you want on a forest — like fishing, hiking and skiing — and it spits out how many visitors you’re likely to get — and hence how many jobs would be created.
Fridley plugs in the various activities that happen on Mt. Hood.
Dallas Fridley: “What I found running the numbers is that there are approximately 2150 jobs created by Mt. Hood National Forest — the activities that the forest provides. So again, those would be things like downhill skiing, fishing, rafting those kinds of things.”
The model also estimates that if you take all the money being paid to those skiing guides, fishing companies etcetera, it would equate to about $60 million a year.
But that’s only recreational activity.
For manufacturing — like logging - I turn to Ray Wilkeson with the Oregon Forestry Industries Council. He estimates about 600 people work in the area cutting trees, driving trucks and milling timber.
So if you add that all together, Mt. Hood generates about 2800 jobs.
That’s just under the number of jobs at say, Columbia Sportswear. It has about 3100 employees.
Put another way, it you gathered all the businesses on the mountain together, it’d be like a small city with 30 restaurants, 25 shops, 50 hotels, and 80 entertainment outlets — like The Spotted Owl Guide Service, and Blue Sky Whitewater Rafting.
It’s not the most scientific of estimates. In fact economist Dallas Fridley says the numbers change dramatically, depending on where you draw the line.
Dallas Fridley: “I really need to point out that without the annual snowfall and water that flows from Mt. Hood, there wouldn’t be an agricultural industry in Hood River. There wouldn’t be any pear industry in Hood River at all.”
Though they don’t work directly on the mountain, farmers in the Hood River Valley depend on that water for their orchards. So if you add in agriculture jobs there, it would more than double the number of jobs to 5300.
But, talking to people up here, it’s clear they don’t see Mt. Hood as a business.
It’s home and it has a kind of magnetic draw for them.
Take Troy Backman, who runs The Fly Fishing Shop in Welches. He was born here and left to go to college.
But he came back because of the beauty and natural grandeur of the area.
Still he says, from a business perspective — the perspective of what we’re calling Mt. Hood Inc. — the mountain might do a little better if it did move.
Troy Backman: “I think if it was 30 miles more east, people would go for the weekend, but it’s so close to Portland they’ll come up for the day. So they’re not getting a bunch of hotels, they’re not getting destination skiing, or destination fishing, those kinds of things. People want to get out of the house. They go up to the mountain, they take a drive. People just go back home.”
Now moving a mountain — that really would be a big job.
Next in our Mt. Hood Inc. series we’ll look at the mountain’s products.
- What’s The Value Of The Mt. Hood Inc. Brand?
- How Much Is That Mountain In The Window? The Cost Side Of Mt. Hood Inc.
- And Just What Products Does This Mt. Hood Inc. Produce?
- Mt. Hood Inc. - Just What Is This Mountain’s Business?