The following story originally ran in the Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000, edition of the Albany Democrat-Herald.
SWEET HOME — If you go by what they are saying down at Mollie's Bakery, Sweet Home will see very few changes as it moves into the millennium.
Rodney Keaton, Ron Mead, Steve Nelson and Robin Miller sat at a back table in the popular meeting place earlier this week, sipping coffee and talking about the direction they think the city of 7,900 will take in future years.
"I don't think it will change very much," said Mead, a retired road builder for Willamette Industries. "I think the changes were made when the mills were forced to cut back on logging."
The four say that Sweet Home has become more of a bedroom community and people would rather travel to a job than move.
Nelson is a log truck driver and has found himself driving as far north as Longview, Wash.
"You've got to go to where it's at," he said. "It used to be that I would just have to go five miles to get work."
When asked why he didn't just switch to hauling freight, Nelson scoffed, "I don't want to live in my truck. I have a wife and kids that I want to come home to each night. That long-haul trucking is not for me."
The four say there is still a steady flow of logging trucks that come through town, but many of them are haulers from outside the area.
"It's not like it used to be," Mead said of the number of trucks. "But they still go by all the time."
Alex Paul, editor and publisher of Sweet Home's New Era newspaper, believes that all the mills that were going to shut down because of the log shortage have already done so.
The ones that are still operating are in it for the long haul, Paul said, because of the investment they have made in new equipment.
The majority of the logs going to the remaining mills today are smaller and are from private timber lands.
Although many former timber workers have retrained and are working in other fields, the group at Mollie's agreed that to a large degree Sweet Home is still reliant on timber. Except now it's private timber.
"They'll continue to cut timber as long as the government allows it," Paul said. "When we moved here 15 years ago, the timber industry was still going pretty strong."
At that time, the school district had enough money and the city was always able to budget what it needed, he said. What people are unaware of is how the loss of timber revenues have affected the schools and city.
With the loss of jobs and revenue the city has tried to reinvent itself.
Sweet Home has been shifting from a timber-based economy to more of a tourist-based economy, Paul said.
Foster and Green Peter lakes east of Sweet Home attract thousands of visitors during the summer, as do local events such as the Sweet Home Rodeo and the Oregon Jamboree.
A group of local residents have also been exploring the possibility of building a high-tech executive training center called the Wilderness Village.
If built, the complex would serve as a place where corporate managers could get away for training and to refocus their goals.
Despite the blow it received when the timber industry slowed down, the city continues to grow.
A new community center that will be shared by the Sweet Home Senior Center and the Sweet Home Boys and Girls Club will be completed this spring.
At about the same time, ground will be broken for a new emergency services building that will house the Sweet Home Police Department.
"Except for a little growth, I don't think it will change that much," Mead said. "It will probably be pretty much the same as it is now."
ALEX PAUL POSTSCRIPT, 2017:
Things have worked out pretty much as predicted for Sweet Home, whose population has grown to almost 9,000.
Sales of timber from federal lands are about 10 percent of what they had been in the 1970s and 1980s. Large mills have been replaced with small, specialty operations, although the former Weyerhaeuser plywood plant on the east side of town was recently purchased by a family-owned company based in Springfield.
Sweet Home has made significant improvements in its infrastructure since 2000, including construction of a new water treatment plant and is in the process of building a new wastewater treatment plant.
The former U.S. Forest Service office has been purchased by the city and plans are to renovate it into a new city hall.
Sweet Home’s best economic development system may be the many successes of its neighbor — Lebanon. Jobs have been created by the development of the COMP-Northwest medical school, the Samaritan Health Sciences Campus and the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home.
Hundreds of new homes were planned for Sweet Home before the recession struck in 2008. New home construction ground to a halt, but there are signs that home construction will rev up again as the economy continues to improve.
The city will also benefit from the county’s gift of the former Knife River property that borders the South Santiam River. The city has plans to develop the property with parks, homes and businesses.
Despite its economic struggles, Sweet Home continues to have its own identity and has a number of individuals dedicated to creating a more prosperous community.