MALHEUR COUNTY — Locals who worked with a Pendleton man who was a key player in Oregon’s business world at large and who was involved in Malheur County projects, too, expressed shock at the sudden loss of a man they consider both colleague and friend.
Scott Fairley was the southeast Oregon regional development officer for Biz Oregon, and as such was tied to projects throughout eastern Oregon, including the Treasure Valley Reload Center and the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board.
Fairley, 53, died Tuesday evening in a Mexican hospital where he had been awaiting surgery since New Year’s Eve after suffering an aneurysm while traveling there, according to an article posted Wednesday in the East Oregonian, a newspaper in his hometown of Pendleton.
Local government and business leaders already are reeling at the loss of a man who helped provide resources for local economic development projects.
Ontario Community Development Director Dan Cummings said that the loss of Fairley is “a very sad day for all of Oregon.”
The news comes as a huge shock to everyone, Cummings said, adding that Fairley would be sorely missed.
“They just don’t come any better as a human being and as a friend! Scott was also a huge asset to Eastern Oregon Economic health, he was always ready and willing to help us out in whatever he could do for our region. … Deepest condolences go out to his family.”
Kit Kamo, director of Snake River Economic Development Area called Fairley a “great economic development partner,” emphasizing that type of work can not be done alone.
“You have to have partners to make it work,” she said.
Fairley was just that, a state partner, Kamo said, who was “always at the table willing to help businesses get through different hurdles they would run into when trying to develop and expand.”
“It’s really important to have that kind of support,” she said, emphasizing that it is often a challenge in eastern Oregon to have a representative that knows the area and understands business and all the partners involved.”
Kamo recalled Fairley’s work to help Fry Foods expand into Oregon, as they were once looking at going into the Tri-Cities or Umatilla or Morrow counties.
“It was a big deal and he was the first at the table,” she said, adding that it was only one example of numerous projects Fairley was involved in here.
While he was in town in December for a SRADA meeting, Kamo said she go to have lunch with Fairly.
“He was so excited to go on vacation to Mexico with his wife,” she said, expressing her sympathy. “I’m sorry about what happened there, but also glad he got to go, because he talked about how it was such a big deal to him.”
Border Board members ‘stunned’ and ‘sad’
The Border Board was created in the 2017 legislative session.
As a liaison to the board, Fairley offered the group technical assistance.
Shawna Peterson, of Ontario, who is the chairwoman of the board and worked closely alongside Fairley, said he was “constantly involved” with the board. It is now “totally up in the air” who will fill the void of ‘tremendous support,’ she said.
“Scott was instrumental in developing the programs we are now rolling out,” she said. “The impact of those programs on our Border Region will be a lasting testament and tribute to Scott’s tireless dedication to rural Oregon.”
Peterson also expressed her sympathies for his family.
“We are all just stunned,” she said. “It’s going to leave a pretty big hole.”
Fairley and Peterson were supposed to have met on Monday prior to the Border Board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.
Stuart Reitz, who also serves on the Border Board said he shocked to hear of Fairley’s passing.
“It’s incredibly sad for his family and really for everyone in eastern Oregon,” Reitz said.
He had knowledge and understanding of the different communities, coupled with a genuine commitment to making it a better place, Reitz said.
“Scott was always incredibly upbeat and optimistic, and someone who never closed the door on an idea. He knew so much about the inner workings of the state government, he’d ask what your goal was and say ‘maybe approach it from this direction,’ or ‘let me look into it and see what we can do.’”
“We’re all sad and will miss him greatly.”
Fairley was also involved in the development of the Treasure Valley Reload Center and the Malheur County Development Corporation.
“I cannot express enough of my sadness at the loss of Scott,” said Greg Smith, Malheur County Economic Development Director, in a news release. “Scott worked tirelessly In Malheur County and many of our successes are due to the work of Scott behind the scenes. My prayers go out to his family and friends during this time.”
Grant Kitamura, managing partner and CEO of Baker & Murakami Produce, said Fairley’s “personality and ethics will be missed greatly.”
“I respected Scott both as a professional and personally,” Kitamura was quoted as saying in the news release from Malheur County Economic Development. “This is a sad day for Malheur County and all the people Scott helped. I had the utmost respect for him and his work.”
Biz Oregon colleague reflects on his ‘passion’
Nathan Buehler, communications manager with Biz Oregon, says he got to know Fairley on a few different projects throughout southeast Oregon. His colleague worked on myriad business projects, both large and small.
“He just had a passion for the area, but not just that, he had a passion for the world and community,” Buehler said.
His colleague had a positive attitude and the ability to “walk in and brighten a room with his laid-back style.”
A driver of solutions, Fairley aimed to figure out how to make things happen, and had the ability, Buehler said, of taking people that had similar viewpoints and opinions but varying political interests, and finding common ground. Fairley could “get them to realize they had the same ultimate goal,” he said.
“Scott was a pleasure to know and to work with whether you came from Portland, Vale or Pendleton,” Buehler said.
And following the Snowpocalypse of 2017, Fairley was integral in helping the onion industry recoup.
“He wanted to see the community stand back up and work together to stand back up,” Buehler said.
Fairly also worked on the Regional Community Solutions team, which was formed under former-Gov. John Kitzhaber. The state solutions team was first organized to deal with issues in Malheur County and Ontario over the expansion of the Snake River Correctional Institution, which served as the pilot project.
The team has also worked with Ontario on industrial land availability and certification.
Five state department heads formed the Community Solutions Team at the state level, coordinating the state’s response to economic and development issues across the state, with the purpose of creating better communication and partnerships between the agencies and officials at the local level.
The regional teams, made up of state agency staff based around the state, were the primary face of Community Solutions at the local level, meeting with local officials to discuss needs and various problems.
Originally, Fairley represented the Department of Environmental Quality on the team and focused on natural resources.
He became regional team coordinator after former Gov. Ted Kulongoski was elected and renamed them economic revitalization teams, even though the focus remained the same.
Fairley, a Pendleton High School graduate, was going into the end of his first term serving on the Pendleton City Council this year, according to the East Oregonian. He was elected to his seat by a landslide in 2016.
Malheur County Commissioner Larry Wilson, who worked with Fairley on numerous projects throughout the years, expressed his appreciation for the impact felt by Fairley.
Wilson was also quoted in the news release from the economic development department.
““Scott worked his tail off for us and on behalf of the county, I appreciate all the work he did on all our projects,” Wilson said.