Sunday, July 17, 2011

It Really Sucks to Be Told You Suck



"You can't handle the truth."
-- Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) in "A Few Good Men," 1992

Bill Watkins is not a popular fellow in Bend.

Bill Watkins, an economist from Southern California, first came here in January 2009 to present his economic forecast for Deschutes County, which already was about two and a half years into the Great Real Estate Fire Sale. Watkins told the audience of local movers and shakers that unemployment here would hit 15%.

The movers and shakers pooh-poohed. Couldn't happen, they said. Ridiculous. No frickin' WAY. Why, people wanted to live here.

As it turned out, Watkins was wrong. Unemployment did not hit 15%. It passed 15% and breezed right on by it, reaching almost 20%.

So the pooh, as the saying goes, was on the other foot.

Flash forward to the present day. Watkins has been hired by the Deschutes Economic Alliance, a group trying to find ways to help Bend and Deschutes County extricate itself from the crapper. The other day he gave an interview to a Portland radio station.

“They’re in bad shape, with an unemployment rate ranging from just a little below 15% to over 17%, depending on the community in Central Oregon,” Watkins said, as reported in today's issue of The Bulletin. “Home prices have just been decimated, still are very weak.”

Two of the three Deschutes County commissioners became incensed at Watkins, not because he uttered untruths but because he said some things that ... well, they just weren't very nice.

“I would have expected something factual yet positive toward our area,” said Commissioner Tammy Baney. “Quite possibly that is because he doesn’t live in our area and doesn’t see what I see on a daily basis. I think you can say we have high unemployment, but you can also marry that with ‘the numbers are getting better.’ ”

Commissioner Alan Unger sounded even dumber: “We aren’t going to move forward by repeating the challenges that sort of sound doom-and-gloomy."

To his credit, the third commissioner, Tony DeBone, took it like a grownup. “Those are facts, and I don’t think I see anything wrong there,” he said of Watkins's comments.

Watkins is sticking to his guns. “I think my job is to tell the truth as I see it, and if people can clearly evaluate the situation, they’re better able to deal with it. I just don’t see how I’d be doing the community any service if I sugar-coated it.”

Poor Bill, you just don't get it. Folks in Bend don't want truth-tellers; they want cheerleaders. They don't want to swallow any bitter truth pills; they want that sugar coating. Lots and lots of sugar coating.

In fact, forget about the pills and just keep feeding them sugar. They'll adore you for it.

9 comments:

Marshall_Will said...

Bruce,

From inception, the bubble-blogging community's collecetive consensus has been, no one is really interested in "rebuilding the local economy only THIS time on a more solid and diverse foundation!"

All the nickel-dime speculators, One Truck Johnny builders, realtors, mortgage brokers and bankers want is: One More Round of Fast & Loose and then I'M OUT!

Re-load the game! They're not remotely interested in rolling up their sleeves, making long term investments and doing the tough WORK it will require to get young people employed again. Not a lick.

I can't speak to Mr. Watkins' qualifications, I'm sure he's a bright fellow, but what the city council really was looking for was, a 'shaman'. Someone w/ lots of magic bullets!

The bottom line unfortunately is, the model they are so desperately attempting to resuscitate is irreversibly broken. Boomers no longer want *multiple* 4,000 s/f homes. Period. No psychological 'profiling' req. Forbes, Fortune, Money Mag and IBD have ALL run articles to that effect. It's called r-e-a-d-i-n-g.

How -anyone- can be "buried in work" at 20% Unemployment levels, frankly strains every definition of credible explanation?

H. Bruce Miller said...

He didn't say he's in the construction business. Maybe he has some business that's independent of the Bend economy.

Marshall_Will said...

Blackdog,

Anything is possible, but when you hear even smut peddlers are crying the blues..? Everyone's been affected, only question is, how 'badly'?

Oh there's little rays of sunshine once in awhile. Good friend that was a builder during The Boom dusted off his law lic. and now represents BANKS. Oddly enough, banks that are suing BUILDERS! Lol. But even that ran its course and dried up.

Another MBA pal in Chicago. Been a Comm. RE appraiser since the 70's. Got a slight uptick in app. orders. Primarily lenders needing a Post-bust write up on foreclosed commercial buildings. Now? Crickets...

In spite of the fact I covered the housing bubble since 2003, SOLD my house in '04, went to cash, long Gold and -rented-, it hardly implies I walked away "without a scratch". They say the people that get hurt the worst in car crashes, are the ones that see it coming!

We're all tensed up and bracing for impact. The oblivious? I guess they're like drunks and babies. They breeze right thru it? While I've preserved cap., that's not the point. Years are lost, they should have been good or even decent years. It's the AGING! Since 2007 ( start of Credit Crunch and collapse of Eq. mkts. ) I feel like I've aged 20 years.

If by some miracle, some mystical MAGICAL miracle (1) of us managed to walk away unscathed.., the last thing I'd be doing is hexing myself by running my mouth about on an anon. forum? I'm just superstitious that way.

Jack Elliott said...

"Folks in Bend don't want truth-tellers; they want cheerleaders."

We can have cheerleaders? I'll take three.

H. Bruce Miller said...

Not the cute kind in abbreviated costumes, unfortunately -- the Chamber of Commerce / Central Oregon Association of Realtors kind.

Jack Elliott said...

You haven't partied until you've partied with the CoC and CORA. Those people are freaky.

H. Bruce Miller said...

Feed 'em sugar or feed 'em shit, which in this case amounts to the same thing.

Marshall_Will said...

"I'll take three"

Oh....kay!

When you really LOOK at it, who's job exactly is IT these council-critters and mayors are trying to save? THEIR'S that's who's.

Business people can pack up their bags and head down the road. And that's precisely what I'm advocating. Bail! It's not 'our' fault they handed out free sidewalks and streetlights to developers? Bail!

It's not our fault they offered Caddy-pensions to firefighters at age 50? It's not our fault teachers only work a handful of months a year? Bail!

What's stopping us from pulling up tent stakes and moving just a few miles down the road? Oh you wanted to have everyone put cutesy store fronts on? Designate each and every building as being on the Historic Register? Bail!

So sorry to hear that. We're moving to Goshen, or... Pleasant Hill or... Prineville or Monmouth? Anywhere that's just outside your reach. Best of luck balancing that budget.

Marshall_Will said...

As a side note, before anyone dismisses that notion out of hand, Lease expire, businesses MOVE. People retire, shops are bought and sold.

Everyday, any number of Leases run out. LL's hope like hell their tenent stays. It's a 50/50 deal.

As they run their course, the operator has choices to make. Do I stay here, put up w/ a city council who's ideas and values don't align in any w/ 'mine', OR... do I move into that new building just a few miles down the road?

It needn't and probably WON'T be an organized "movement". These types of business migrations morph all on their own. What was 'trendy' just years prior becomes a dump, ghetto or high crime area.

Run down areas are rediscovered! I think though under these extreme circumstances, it won't be a matter of just moving down the block or a few doors down, effectively "We've MOVED ( Next door! )" They'll keep foraging until they find the right gov't fit, regardless how 'far' that is?

City councils can either re-invent themselves into something more business friendly ( a complete 180 in most cases ) or, preside over an ever declining economy? Their choice.