ECONOMY LOOKS GOOD FOR NORTHEAST OREGON

November 01, 2001 12:00 am

Its possible for people to will evil upon themselves. For almost a year now, American political leaders, media and a host of others have been telling us that the economy is going south into a recession. The fall of the nations economy became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even BEFORE Sept. 11, many of the nations largest companies had either merged or were discussing the idea of merger with similar companies. Driven by a need to continue to provide staggering returns on the investments of millions of Americans who have become charmed with the idea of their 401-Ks or IRAs producing an annual double-digit return, companies were tightening their belts.

The emergence of the Web-based company also produced some unrealistic expectations. Companies that were losing millions of dollars every quarter, while their stock prices soared to new heights, appeared to become the ultimate roller-coaster machine that would only go up and would never come down. Not since the Great Depression had Americans found themselves living in a world devoid of reality. The nation was seeing an emerging class of millionaires that was akin to the era of the robber barons. Even this was destined to fail.

Just as we had become convinced that we could go higher and higher, we here in the Grande Ronde Valley have also concluded that there is a recession in progress. Where are the signs? The idea that a recession has occurred is usually marked by high unemployment and a marked decline in wages and benefits. Homeowners defaulting on their home loans also points to recession. These things have not been happening here in Union County.

Instead, there are unmistakable signs that things are going well in Union County. Boise Cascade continues to employ close to 700 people. The number of government jobs remains solid, whether you are looking at the regional Oregon Department of Transportation, Eastern Oregon University, or other agencies. Union Countys unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the state at 3.9 percent. Safeway is investing more than $5 million in building a superstore. The first phase of more than $50 million in construction at the university will begin soon.

Elgins new industrial park infrastructure is nearing completion and the aerospace manufacturing company at the park is close to finishing its building construction. By January a developer will probably be selected to redevelop the Bohnenkamp site in downtown La Grande.

We need to be careful that we dont talk ourselves out of the good times we are enjoying here in Union County. Even to the east of us, things are looking up for our neighbors in Wallowa County. Both lumber mills are back up and running and an Idaho company is looking at opening a wood pellet business. We have a long way to go before our average per capita job pays the state average, but we are headed in the right direction.

Our local economy is looking better than it has in years. If the momentum continues, perhaps well see many new businesses locate here (both commercial and retail).

Lets talk ourselves up and see what happens.