A recent Ashland Chamber of Commerce survey has found that a majority of surveyed businesses maintained or increased their sales despite troubled economic times.

A recent Ashland Chamber of Commerce survey has found that a majority of surveyed businesses maintained or increased their sales despite troubled economic times.

The survey also found that local businesses value Ashland's small-town charm and quality of life, but worry about having a skilled workforce and adequate space to expand.

The Chamber of Commerce has surveyed businesses in 2006 and 2008, but those surveys were done when the national economy was in an upward period, said Chamber Executive Director Sandra Slattery.

This year's survey, which was conducted from January through March, reveals how businesses weathered economic challenges, she said.

Chamber representatives presented the findings of the survey to City of Ashland officials this month.

Jim Teece, a Chamber board member and chief executive officer of Project A, said volunteers surveyed representatives from 32 local businesses that together had 2,200 employees. The surveyed businesses included Chamber members and those that are not members, he said.

"We really wanted to get a cross section of Ashland businesses," Teece said.

While 28 percent of businesses had to reduce the number of their employees over the past three years, 21 percent maintained their workforce and 48 percent added new workers. Another 3 percent saw ups and downs on employee numbers.

Additionally, more than 40 percent of surveyed businesses were able to increase their sales and 20 percent maintained their sales.

In response to the recession, some businesses saw decreased spending by tourists, downsized or lost government and foundation funding.

But many businesses also increased their sales outside the Rogue Valley, while at the same time, increasing the amounts of goods and services they bought from other businesses within the valley.

Both of those trends are important for strengthening the local economy, Chamber officials said.

Surveyed businesses appreciated Ashland's small-town feel, beauty and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

But they said there is a perception that Ashland is anti-business and the planning process can be difficult. However, some businesses that had actually gone through the planning process said the process wasn't that bad.

Many said they lacked adequate space to expand, had a limited labor pool from which to choose workers and there were not enough local manufacturers for the goods they need to conduct business.

Some businesses said that poor cell phone coverage on the south end of town is hurting them.

Earlier this month, the Ashland City Council put restrictions on cell phone facilities after some residents voiced fears that radiofrequency waves could cause health problems.

In years past, AT&T had hoped to install cell phone signal transmission facilities in south Ashland, but those efforts were blocked in light of the concerns of some citizens.

Panhandling and homelessness were cited as a problems in the survey.

The City Council has approved downtown donation boxes that could curb panhandling while raising money to help homeless people who want to get off the streets.

This month, the council also authorized a new law that repeat offenders will be barred from Ashland's downtown and taken to jail if caught there.

Businesses would like to see workers and potential new hires have more technical, production, management, sales, marketing and office skills.

Ashland business reported a keen interest in conservation and sustainability practices, and recommended that the community do more to promote its local and sustainable products.

To read the Chamber's full report on the survey, visit http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/Economic_Dev%20Update%20Atch.pdf.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.