Buffeted by some unfavorable economic winds lately, Union County got together last week to make some new plans for the future.
action plan: Consultant Brian Cole of Orbis Group talks about economic strategies and key success factors during a county-wide economic development summit held last week at the Blue Mountain Conference Center. The Observer/CHRIS BAXTER
On Thursday and Friday, the Union County Economic Development Corp. hosted public meetings at the Blue Mountain Conference Center, inviting anyone interested in the health of the local economy to attend.
The turnout was gratifying, said UCEDC Interim Director Mike Sanford.“We had 40 at each, and that was pretty good for this time of year when so many other things are going on,” Sanford said. He added that attendees came from all over Union County.
“We had people from all the cities together with their feet under the table,” he said. “I think we’ll see some good progress.”
Union County has been hard-hit in the recession, with manufacturing operations closed down or curtailed and unemployment currently at more than 12 percent. The meetings were called last week to address the challenging economic times.
Brian Cole of Orbis Group in Baker City provided direction for the talks, gathering input for an economic model he is constructing for the community.
Cole was hired by UCEDC, with help from a grant from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department and contributions from local stakeholders.
He has developed an approach — called “Building Communities” — that identifies 25 economic development strategies and 85 key success factors.
The aim is to determine which options make the most sense for the future. The value of the approach is in its specificity, he said.
“You can get together and write a vision statement, but the problem with vision statements is that they read about the same no matter which city you’re in,” Cole said. Cole said the economic strategies deal with things like business retention, tourism, health care and more. Key success factors are advantages the county already possesses. Examples would be development of wind energy and availability of industrial land, Cole said.
Cole said he gathered a wealth of input during the two meetings, and added that it is too early to talk about specific outcomes.
Analysis is the next step, he said. He and his staff are working on that now.
“I’ve got 25 strategies and 85 success factors from 80 people,” he said. “It was a lot of information collected in six hours.”
After the results are in, Cole will go over them with a steering committee that was appointed during the meetings. He will make a presentation to the community in about 60 days.
He said he expects to end up with a very clear picture of next steps.
“We’ll have a large table that will show who is going to do what by when,” he said. “It gets very specific. We go from something very broad to dozens of specific actions.”
The steering committee will stay in place indefinitely, overseeing implementation of the strategies.
Cole said he recommends the committee meet monthly, and hold an in-depth meeting every nine months.
The committee consists of Regina Cruse, Cove city councilor; Bonita Hebert, mayor of North Powder; Kaiger Braseth, Imbler city councilor; Dale De Long, mayor of Island City; Sandra Patterson, interim city administrator of Union; Terrie Richards, city administrator of Elgin; Sheri Rogers, mayor of Summerville; Charley Mitchell, La Grande community and economic development director; and Mark Davidson, Union County commissioner.