WHAT COMES FIRST? SUPER STORE OR GROWTH?
Union County has officially projected that the county will grow at a rate of 1 percent a year about double what the actual growth rate has been over the past few decades. Now that the county has made its projection, it's important that county officials make a priority of helping the county grow. Growth hasn't been a reality over the course of the past few decades.
COMMUNITIES need to grow. To expand. To increase employment opportunities for citizens. For many years Union County has been satisfied with the status quo, comfortable in what has been.
In setting a population forecast that is almost double what the actual growth rate has been, county officials are being optimistic rather than realistic.
If the growth forecast was set to help accommodate Wal-Mart's plan to build a super center and provide justification for expanding the urban growth boundary, the county's priorities are misplaced. If the county set the projection because officials feel the components are in place to expand our economy and our population, the growth forecast makes sense. But that would require a significant change from what has occurred over the course of the past 30 years. Union County hasn't wanted to grow.
For too long the county has been mired in economic complacency. We've been relatively comfortable as the state's economy has soared and dipped. With a sizable government workforce, with Boise and Union Pacific and the trailer manufacturers, we've managed to survive the lows.
What we haven't managed to do is provide enough jobs to grow our population and provide a place where our young people can stay, work and raise a family. Witness the declining school enrollment, which has resulted in the closure of two elementary schools and
La Grande's drop from the 4A to the 3A classification. Our economy, while generally stable, isn't something young people can depend upon.
UNION COUNTY NEEDS to grow, and it needs to grow at a rate higher than 1 percent. The reality is that it hasn't been happening. The prevailing sentiment has been largely one of no growth.
Expanding the UGB to accommodate a super center isn't the right strategy for a healthy community. A super center will exact a toll on downtown that will make the impact the freeway had in the early 1970s look like child's play. As it is, our area doesn't have the population to support a super center and a downtown.
The county's priority has to be on creating jobs, on diversifying the economy, on bringing more people to Union County. If those components come together, the addition of a super center won't matter because we'll have the economy and the population that can support it.
First things first. Grow the economy.