This traveling around has reaffirmed my appreciation for Bend.
With one important caveat. It helps to have money. You need to either bring it here, or have a job already in place, or be able to truly finance a business.
Fortune Magazine has just named Bend the "best" mountain town retirement location in the U.S.A.
Well, sure. If you have the money to move here and enjoy it. (Fortune thinks Bend is "affordable" but that's a relative term and I think means affordable to people who can afford that kind of thing. See the below paragraph about rents in Hastings, Ne. Now THAT's affordable.)
That still makes us a retirement and tourism center, and that still means most of the jobs around here will be in the minimum wage range.
Just so's you understand that.
At the same time, I still have to call B.S. on the KTVZ story on how Northwest Crossing is leading a recovery in housing. An increase of 11 more houses built last month in Bend isn't very significant to me. The article is basically an anecdotal story promoted by local real estate interests.
Those guys are wearing me down with their remorseless boosterism. But I'm still going to call B.S. until I see some real change in the statistics.
There was a used bookstore and a new bookstore in Hastings, which at 25K pop. is like the fifth largest town in Nebraska. On main street is Prairie Books (great name). They've been in business for 37 years, though they've moved a number of times. (They were in a mall that has become a 'dead' mall.) It was a cozy place, with a store parrot named Dickens.
Thing is -- the owner said, nothing much has changed since he started. They didn't see a boom or a bust. The unemployment rate is nil, and the agribusiness is doing well. The other thing, is his rent is exactly what I paid in Bend-- 30 years ago. His space is the same as Linda's store, but he is paying 1/4th as much. I am paying 6 times what he's paying per foot.
Sure, I probably get more foot traffic, but not THAT much more foot traffic. Rents in Bend are too damn high!
We're currently in Cheyenne, Wy. , the state capital and the biggest 'city' in the state, with 60K pop. They also are an intersection of not one, but two interstates. (The trucks moving around all night make that pretty clear.)
I've always try to point out in this blog that business would be better for me if we had both a interstate and a four-year college. But it always sounded a little lame, especially the lack of interstate part.
This trip has shown me that, if anything, I was underestimating the impact of the interstate business. There are a TON of people on these roads -- and even if they are just popping into town to fill up with gas and goodies, it must represent an tremendous amount of outside cash.
These 60K towns like Flagstaff and Cheyenne seem to have way more road infrastructure and enclaves of business than 80K Bend. (Then again, that may be one of the reasons Bend is so attractive.)
Finally, even if the "green" part of Oregon is mostly on the other side of the mountains, we do have our green forests and mountains; and it just feels way more verdant than these mega-miles of flat and dry and hot countrysides. (Or spread out and frankly pretty unattractive miles and miles of houses and strip malls in Oklahoma City.)
Flagstaff and Santa Fe are attractive locations, but Bend feels cleaner, more vibrant, without the snob appeal of Santa Fe, or the industrial feel of Cheyenne or Flagstaff. In other words, I still think Bend has it over all the places we have visited.
16 hours ago