“One of the reasons that I love local government,” says Mayor Shane Bemis of Gresham, Ore., “is that it doesn’t matter if you’re an ‘R[epublican]’ or a ‘D[emocrat]’, it matters on what’s best for this community.
That statement sums up Bemis’s governing style in Gresham, where his economically-focused initiatives have enabled the town of about 110,000 people to enjoy revitalized business corridors and a nearly energy-neutral wastewater treatment plant, as well the largest solar installation in the Pacific Northwest.
Bemis was born in Billings, Mont., and moved to Gresham with his family when he was 15 years old — just one day before starting high school. Introduced to politics by his mother (who was very involved in the Montana political scene), Bemis, as he put it, “caught the bug” while working at a family-owned department store, which happened to be a popular spot with local government officials, during his high school years.
In his late 20s, Bemis opened a Bellagio’s Pizzeria franchise in Gresham, which soon led to his belief that the town would benefit being governed by someone with more of a “business sense.” In 2002, he was elected to the city council, and in 2006, voted into the mayor’s office. When he assumed office in 2007, Bemis was just 34 years old — making him the youngest person to hold the position in Gresham’s history.
Although the city’s population has ballooned by more than 75,000 people since 1980, city government positions — including the office of mayor — remain unpaid. Bemis still works as a restaurateur in Gresham, now owning an independent Italian restaurant called Boccelli’s. He splits his time between managing his business, conducting his responsibilities as mayor and spending time with his wife and their three sons.
In response to the many shuttered storefronts in the city’s commercial areas, Bemis (along with the city council) created one of his signature initiatives: the “Garage to Storefront” program, which waived all start-up fees and charges for any business that opened in a space of 5,000 square feet or less and provided assistance from city advisors. Lasting for three years (after which time it was no longer needed), 144 new businesses opened under the program — occupying 200,000 square feet of retail space.
Bemis also quickly recognized the economic potential of going green. Shortly after taking office, he signed the Mayor’s Climate Protection Act and went to work looking for places where environmental responsibility could make economic sense. Gresham changed all of its streetlights to energy-efficient LEDs, repurposed its wastewater treatment plant to produce energy via the recycling of cooking oil and other environmental technologies. Bemis understands Gresham is a conservative city, saying that he never talks about climate in regards to green initiatives, preferring instead to focus on the economic benefits of environmentally-friendly measures. This practical approach has reaped large benefits, something Bemis attributes to the non-partisan nature of local governance.
Bemis hasn’t ruled out the idea of someday seeking higher office, but for the time being he doesn’t seem to be too interested. “Right now, there’s not a lot of glory in being an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ and being in gridlock,” says Bemis, “either at the state level or the federal level. Here we can get things done and it’s a whole heck of a lot of fun.”
January 2015 | By Joan Allen
Youth with Friends of the Children pose with Portland Trailblazers employees, Blaze and Windermere Stellar executives during a private basketball clinic donated by Windermere Stellar.
My brokerage, Windermere Stellar, was recently honored by the Portland Business Journal, which named us one of the Top 10 Philanthropic Companies in Portland, Ore., for 2014. We were humbled to also learn that we came in No. 1 for most volunteer hours.
Community involvement is a cornerstone of our company culture and values, but we would never demand our agents spend their time on any specific item, whether that’s calling expired listings or volunteering.
So how did our residential real estate company spend a whopping 6,537 hours of volunteer time in 2013? Let me give you a window into our community-minded culture.
The entire Windermere network participates in Community Service Day, which takes place one day each summer. The majority of our agents take a break from showing property for half a day and roll up their sleeves to help local charities, neighborhood schools, and even elderly or disabled clients clean, organize, and beautify their property. It’s something we value. However, Community Service Day is responsible for just a portion of the 6,537 volunteer hours recognized by our local paper.
In order to create this infectious attitude, I suppose you could say that we’ve leveraged two key traits found in most successful salespeople — their inherent tendency toward competitiveness and their strong desire to help others, whether that be their clients or an underserved population.
Weave It Into the Day: What we do for Windermere Foundation is simply part of our daily lives. For example, agents will offer to make a small donation to the Windermere Foundation for each agent that attends a broker’s open or gives a price opinion at a listing. Some offices have lunch donated by an agent, charge $5 per plate, and donate the proceeds to charity. The camaraderie from these events connects our agents on a business level as well as a community level, while they share information that creates sales for our clients.
Leverage Friendly Competition: Many agents are competitive. Each office competes in a friendly yearlong contest called “Rise to the Challenge” to raise the most money for charity. This is how many of our unique fundraisers are launched. Another trait of agents is their willingness to help. They sincerely wish to assist clients in their quest to live the life of their dreams. Their desire to help families and children in the community is easily an extension of their everyday jobs. This has also helped us go from the $172,482 in charitable donations our brokerage made in 2013 to more than double that amount — $370,000 — in 2014.
The act of donating goes beyond writing checks for us. While a small portion of every agent’s commission is donated to the Windermere Foundation with the sale of every home, the majority of Windermere Stellar’s donations come from agents providing personal donations above the minimum commission contributions. Planning and executing their own office fundraisers, such as flower sales, auctions, galas, and golf tournaments, is where the real magic happens. All of the proceeds benefit the local chapter of the Windermere Foundation, which provides funds to charities that support low-income children and families in the neighborhoods we serve.
In short, we’ve fostered a culture where agents recognize the benefits of being involved in creating healthy communities where they live and work. They have witnessed how this involvement builds valuable relationships with other agents and the community. They value how it provides a deeper understanding of issues and solutions related to their neighborhoods. And most of all, they understand that helping people move forward in life is an extension of helping their clients buy and sell homes.
Source: Realtor Magazine