Tom Nelson doesn’t need a calendar. He has the dates memorized. Jan. 31 is his final day at City Hall in Corvallis. On Feb. 9 he and his wife, Kim, fly to their condo at Ambergris Caye off the coast of Belize.
And they aren’t coming back until June.
Nelson flips open a tablet and smiles. There it is. The view from the condo. Locally made mahogany furniture on the shady balcony. Palm trees. Blue sea. Another island in view. And, in the distance, the barrier reef that is one of Belize’s major attractions.
“I’ll be sitting there just watching the ocean,” Nelson said in a Thursday interview at City Hall. “Just sipping a drink.”
Nelson, 65, is finishing a six-year run as economic development manager for the city of Corvallis and Benton County at the close of a diverse career that included 11 years on the Albany City Council, 12 years running an oxygen plant at Albany’s Air Products & Chemicals and work at community college small business development centers before moving to economic development.
“We still have some challenges, but we’ve overcome a lot and built a good program,” said Nelson of his work for Corvallis and Benton County. The joint city-county office has a budget of approximately $300,000, with the city picking up two-thirds of the tab.
Nelson said he feels comfortable retiring now because waiting in the wings is Kate Porsche, the city’s economic development officer.
“The great thing is that Kate Porsche, my successor, will be able to carry on what I’ve been able to do. She’s top-notch, experienced and able to take over things I have initiated.”
One project Porsche already is heavily involved in is a proposal to create an urban renewal district in South Corvallis. One of the reasons she was hired in March was because of her experience from 2006-2016 working on urban renewal in Albany. Corvallis plans to bring its urban renewal district proposal to the voters in March.
Nelson also is leaving with a bit of hardware. Last month he was named economic development leader of the year at the Oregon Economic Development Association’s annual conference in Klamath Falls.
“To have this recognition as I’m going out means so much to me because I’ve known the people for 20 years and it’s great to be honored by your peers,” he said.
Key accomplishments during his tenure noted by Nelson include significant expansions for beverage sector firms such as Block 15, 2 Towns, Nectar Creek, 4 Spirits and Grouphead Coffee as well as assisting with the Ram-Z Fab machine shop and Softstar Shoes.
Inevitably, however, there are fish that you just can’t reel in.
“We got leads on recruitment, but we haven’t landed a big one yet,” he said without naming any names. “That’s a long-term game. It sometimes takes five to 10 years to make inroads and relationships are so important.”
One issue that Nelson leaves unfinished — as well as one he thinks will challenge Porsche — is making sure the public knows what the office is doing.
“There is an ongoing need to educate people on what economic development is and the importance of it,” Nelson said. “If you ask 100 people what economic development is you get just as many different answers. We need to try to promote what we’re doing and promote our office as an asset. We need to be getting out and talking to people — and Kate Porsche does that really well.”
But it won’t all be just fun in the sun in Belize for Nelson. His long-standing ties to the Rotary Club already are bearing fruit with a Belize branch, where he hopes to work with the locals on community development, recycling and suntan oil.
“Yes, suntan oil pollutes the reef,” Nelson said. “We need to work to get better ingredients in those products.”