Tucked away off U.S. Highway 20 is Black Butte Ranch, an 1,800-acre resort with cows, horses, private homes for rent, six swimming pools, two golf courses, restaurants and a lake.
Guests won’t find a hotel here, or much commercialism. In fact, that’s part of the mission of the ranch, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020.
Black Butte Ranch has no trouble attracting visitors, but can find it challenging to bring in seasonal workers, said Jay Head, Black Butte Ranch CEO. The ranch is about 33 miles northwest of Bend, and 8 miles northwest of Sisters. It is the largest employer in the Sisters area and among the top 20 largest employers in Central Oregon, Head said.
The ranch is a residential community that prides itself on recreation and a tranquil environment, Head said. “And we’re committed to limited commercial operations. That’s what sets us apart.”
The ranch, built by Brooks Resources in 1970, acts as a fully functioning city with its own sewer treatment plant, police force and fire protection, post office and general store. The ranch rents out about a third of the 300 privately owned homes. The balance are either rented out or held for the owners, Head said.
Head, 44, came to the ranch in 2017 from Palm Desert, California, where he was in charge of a country club. He has 19 years of experience running country clubs and resorts.
Head talked with The Bulletin about the business of running a resort. His responses have been edited for length and content.
Q: How many employees does it take to run the resort ranch?
A: We fluctuate. The ranch employs 125 people year-round. It’s a career for many of them, and some have been here for as long as 30 years. We have about 400 during our high season — Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Q: Is it difficult to attract and retain employees being so far out of town?
A: It is difficult. It continues to pose a challenge not just with the supply and demand in the marketplace, but with attracting and keeping employees. We start at $15 an hour, and we noticed that the fast-food restaurants in Bend were paying the same amount. We recognize that we’re asking a large percentage of our workforce to drive all the way out here for the same rate. It’s difficult, and it has put us in a position to be creative and to ensure that we have a great culture that employees are seeking. We want our employees to like what they do.
Q: What incentives do you offer employees?
A: We rent several homes that we can rent out to the seasonal employees who come from outside the region. For our local employees, we try to make it fun, by giving them access to the recreational amenities. We hold monthly barbecues here, and employees have access to the ranch recreation. If employees find a passion in this field, we offer mentoring or providing an opportunity to make a career out of this.
We offer a retention bonus for some of our seasonal positions to reward them for sticking it out the full peak season with us. We offer incentive referral bonuses for employees who refer friends and family.
Q: What kind of guests does the ranch attract?
A: We are similar to Sunriver. People learn about us from word of mouth, and from their familiarity with Central Oregon. We try to maintain a presence through regional advertising, and we encourage the public to consider us and our recreational services. We attract mostly families. And we offer family-orientated recreation. People come here for our location. We don’t have a banquet hall, but we do weddings. What makes the ranch so special for life-changing events is this view of the lake.
— Reporter: 541-633-2117, email@example.com