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Attendees await dinner service at the KCEDA annual meeting.

Downtown hotel construction, Klamath employment and student success were on the minds of speakers Thursday night as the Klamath County Economic Development Association held its largest annual meeting and dinner to date.

KCEDA donors and board members — 110 in all — attended the session at the Running Y ranch for cocktails, dinner and speakers.

The first speaker of the evening was Dr. Roberto Gutierrez, Klamath Community College president. He shared the importance of building a strong community college program, and how KCEDA has helped.

“It used to be that after high school we could just go and get a middle-class job. That’s no longer happening,” he said. “So we have a problem. Now, there’s not much we can do across the U.S. But we can certainly do something in our community.”

Education challenges

He pointed out some “brutal facts” to the audience. Including that Oregon has one of the highest rates of high school dropouts in the country.

He pointed out how the goals of the school and KCEDA are interconnected. He said students need to be better prepared in high school so they can get an education and get a good-paying job. There also need to be jobs in Klamath to attract that workforce.

Gutierrez went through some of the efforts KCC has gone through in the past few years, including offering college credit at low prices to high school students, offering distance education to those who can’t physically make it to campus, and working with nearby universities to make sure credits from KCC transfer.

Building up downtown

John Ferguson from Ferguson Properties was the next speaker. Ferguson Properties is building a Fairfield hotel in downtown Klamath Falls.

After giving a brief history of how he started his business, he described why he chose to open a hotel in Klamath Falls.

“I think you make the best impression in the first five minutes, and boy, you guys made a good impression. I knew this was a great community to be involved in,” he said.

“We know that we will be highly successful here. This will not be the only business venture that we will move in here.”

After Ferguson’s speech, Lauren Jesperson announced the results of the KCEDA board elections. Jesperson was elected president, Randy Shaw was named vice president, Ann Cavanaugh was named secretary and Terry Scroggin was named treasurer.

Randy Cox, CEO of KCEDA, was the final speaker of the evening. He walked the audience through major projects that KCEDA is working on as well as its efforts during the past year.

Strategic plan

He said KCEDA submitted a three-year strategic plan which was approved by the executive board.

“It’s a 53-page document that really set out a targeted approach to recruitment, attraction, expansion, retention and scalable entrepreneurship within Klamath County,” he said.

Cox said the document will be available for anyone to access on the KCEDA website in September.

He thanked donors for their increased donations in the past year. He said revenue for KCEDA has increased by 63%.

“We will prove to you in the next three years, these investments were very worthwhile,” he said.

“We’ve set up goals in our three-year plan of recruiting nine new companies to Klamath Falls, with 250 employees,” he said.