Klamath’s home grown wood products company and largest private employer was recently purchased by a Canadian investment firm who moved the corporate headquarters from Klamath to North Carolina. Earlier this year after Jeld-Wen went public, Klamath County dispatched a delegation to beg them not to reduce or close Klamath operations. Following that trip, the CEO visited Klamath to smooth concerns about downsizing.

While Jeld Wen may not intend on downsizing soon, they don’t seem likely to be investing much more in Klamath. We’re still treading water; without an economic injection, Klamath isn’t likely to improve much.

NOW imagine how happy Klamath’s struggling businesses would be if someone floated $23 million in cash for visitors to spend locally.

This is exactly what is happening this summer on the north end of Senate District 28, which encompasses Klamath, Lake and most of Crook Counties. What and how, you ask? Why not Klamath?

The short answer: because Central Oregon’s “got game.” Not Prinveville, hell no, although they will be a major beneficiary. The cool factor in Bend and Deschutes County and all the progressive things they’ve done to make their communities appealing to younger generations made the difference. That’s the hub that makes it possible to mobilize a festival on private land further out where there is ample space to do so. That’s why one of the largest music festivals ever held this side of the Cascades is scheduled to rain money on Central Oregon in 2017. Oregon Eclipse, is another name in a growing list of rural music festivals that are breathing life into places most people would never visit otherwise.

Klamath should know, for we’ve seen similar festival-goers zip through Klamath Falls each year on the way to Burning Man.With so many people attending both Oregon Eclipse and Burning Man this year, the migration between the two will pull more traffic away from Klamath, diverting them through Lakeview instead. Klamath is about as uncool as you can get, considering the vile combination of repellent government practices, such as banning Marijuana dispensaries, dragnet-style policing, and a general disdain among Klamath groups that harbor a clear bias against the sterotypical festival goer. Even so, the new festival could add trekkers from a different vector as some will think it brilliant to jump off I-5 in Weed and take 97 to Bend. They may even plan to overnight in Klamath until they realize that as soon as they hit 97 at the Oregon border, they will be forced to drive 55 in one lane the rest of the way. (They can keep going 70 on multiple lanes of I-5 all the way to Eugene on the other route which would ultimately be faster). And why would anyone want to stop in Klamath to stock up on supplies when the one thing they really want is banned? They won’t. Taking I-5 to Eugene and then to Bend would route them through four, large pot-friendly communities. In eastern Oregon, Deschutes County embraced legalized cannabis and so did Bend and Redmond. As a result, the vast majority of the $23 million in new tourist cash from Oregon Eclipse will be spent in Deschutes County (figure based on a multiplier derived from studies on the economic impact of the Burning Man festival on Reno).

$23 million. For a decade or so, Klamath has been sucking $400,000 a year from hospitality tax and spending it to con more people into visiting. The result fell far short, even after adding together ten years worth of people visiting because of tourism promotion. At the rate we’ve been going, it would take over 100 years to match the $23 million in gain from embracing one fun event. Doesn’t it make you wonder:

  1. Why haven’t TOURISM stakeholders been educating the community on this opportunity and why have they failed to directly lobby government to create a climate more conducive to host rural festivals? The most tourism has done is make a banner and hand out bags of garbage (literally) to people on their way to Burning Man.
  2. Why isn’t KCEDA developing a site and strategy for hosting festivals in tandem with private property owners keen on earning several million dollars for renting their land out for a week or two?
  3. Last, but not least, why hasn’t the Chamber of Commerce EVER done anything to endorse or support strategies #1 and #2, or coordinate the kind of outreach necessary for local businesses to capitalize on festival trade?

These three groups were sitting on their hands while local governments contemplated whether to go red or green. They are still staring dumbly at the situation, some gazing into space, others running around in circles to show they are busy. Must we continue to collectively acting like a dumb animal climbing a tree for the unattainable apple while ignoring low hanging fruit?