Union's economic future focus of forum
North Eastern Oregon Economic Development District Executive Director Lisa Dawson was recently hired by the city to create a plan of action.
NEOEDD contracted with Vicki Dugger, Portland, executive director of the Oregon Downtown Development Association, to conduct an assessment of Union.“We found, to no surprise, that Union is filled with opportunities but has some definite issues to contend with,” Dugger said during a forum at the Bobcat Athletic Complex.
Union United received a Rural Business Opportunity Grant from USDA Rural Development. Union United asked NEOEDD to provide a scope of work on how it could help Union meet its objectives.
Dugger and Dawson performed a three-day on-site observance of the city, and presented some preliminary findings at the forum. Their objective is to develop a written plan of action to improve Union’s economy. Dugger said the plan will be ready for action in about two months.
One of the biggest business development opportunities the team discovered was an up-and-coming group of entrepreneurs called “Lone Eagles.” They are business owners and employees who are not location-dependent.
One attractive aspect of “Lone Eagles” is that their income is about 75 percent non-local money, but most of it is spent locally.
Dugger expressed the importance of maintaining health services and telecom services for this group.
“Union and Wallowa County have an under-the-radar but growing Lone Eagle cluster, with high-tech and non-high-tech jobs held primarily by younger people who wanted to raise their families here – who either grew up here or discovered the community,” she said. “We feel that focusing on this sector is a good strategy for future business development.”
The next steps in the overall project, outlined by Dawson, includes training on industrial recruitment and organizing a meeting with Janet Dodson of Eastern Oregon Visitors Association/Union County Tourism to determine actions that can be taken to improve tourism opportunities.
Additionally, training will be held for local artists and craftspeople on “selling what you make.”
The forum emphasized options Union residents have at this point. Answers reside in what the people want for the future of their city.
“We were surprised by the amount of division within the community and wanted to find a way for the citizens to find common ground and begin to repair the community social structure,” said Dugger.
One option is to keep to the status quo, with in-fighting continuing to divide Union.
Yet another is taking an interest in rebuilding trust and a sense of community — or finding common ground.
And still one more is working together for mutual benefit and survival — a community realizing it is more than the sum of its parts.
“We also found a few folks who moved away because they were tired of all the in-fighting. Without addressing this key issue, Union will continue to struggle,” Drugger said.
On a positive note, expression of Union’s assets and uniqueness was a threaded topic.
Dawson and Dugger suggested that Union begin having simple, community-building socials where no negative community talk is allowed in order to help rebuild a sense of community and friendship.
The consultants said they’ve had quite a bit of good feedback after the assessment presentation. Community members from high-school age to the elderly were grateful to get some ideas on how to mend fences and move forward.
Some city bonding and tourism-enhancing ideas taken well by the citizens included a celebration of Oregon’s 150th birthday in February; having fun and simple events with food and old-time fiddle music; seeing how cool recycling can be with a top-notch public golf course, Buffalo Peak, built on part of a reclaimed landfill; and providing a chance to watch some live saddle making.
Dugger said she thought a visitor-friendly kiosk would bolster tourism.
After the meeting, citizens stuck around conversing about the information and suggestions.
What is Dugger’s final take? “Attitude is everything: It can and will make or break a community,” she said.