March 30, 2001 11:00 pm

Its a weary time for would-be investors and those who run businesses. The Dow Jones Industrials and the NASDAQ have both been in downward spirals, heading daily into bear market territory. Multi-national corporations are laying off thousands of employees or threatening to do so.

The news has been generally negative for the past nine months, starting before the presidential elections. So with all this doom and gloom, what should people be thinking about the situation here in La Grande and throughout Northeast Oregon? Are we, too, headed for a recession or some kind of economic downturn?

We dont think so. We havent heard of any massive layoffs in Union County by employers such as Boise Cascade Corp., Eastern Oregon University, the state or federal governments or any other major employer. In fact, things seem to be looking up in the Grande Ronde Valley.

not long ago ODS Health Plans opened a small but new service center in La Grande. Boise Cascade rebuilt its mill in Elgin after a fire, keeping many people employed. Eastern Oregon University is in the middle of a $32 million science building project that will bring lots of construction jobs in the next couple of years. Once completed, the new science building will add numerous faculty positions and support staff, and the possibility of 1,000 new students enrolling at the university.

Even though the state is in a financial budget crunch, we havent heard of any major downsizing of local agency jobs.

La Grande and Northeast Oregon were left behind during the 1990s economic boom that saw 20 percent growth in the Willamette Valley area. Incomes havent risen close to the statewide averages, so were still an attractive place for both manufacturing and small-business expansion. There isnt any reason for doom and gloom in the area.

Shopkeepers and other retailers need to remember that people in the area still have the same disposable income they had at Christmastime. Sure, they are having to pay more for their electricity and natural gas, but as summer approaches, those bills should drop off considerably as energy consumption declines.

Other goods news might be the development of the Elgin Industrial Park and the small manufacturing plant that Jeff Smith (Village Smithy) wants to build in that community. If Smiths perception holds true, his company could grow to provide 65 to 80 new jobs in the next five years. There isnt any reason to be bearish about our area.

The La Grande area is starting to turn bullish and we hope everyone starts thinking and talking that way.

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