Growth will be focus of summit

By Observer Upload March 29, 2013 11:39 am

by Kelly Black/For The Observer

With an aim to influence economic growth and stability in the region, the La Grande City Council and the Union County Board of Commissioners are sponsoring an Economic Summit Tuesday at the Blue Mountain Conference Center.

“When we look at the current economy in Eastern Oregon, we are not really growing that much,” said Robert Strope, La Grande city manager. “Our unemployment is still high.”

Summit invitations have been sent out to key community leaders and organizations in Union County, including elected officials, school districts, state and federal agencies, industry sectors and businesses and other involved individuals. 

“I think there is an obligation to get everybody in a room to see if there are some things we are not doing, that we could start doing, that could be helpful,” said Strope. 

Strope hopes that members of the general public will also attend the summit.

“The more members of the community that show up, the better off we are,” he said. “I’m very optimistic we are going to have a full house.”

The summit will begin with a brief overview of the local economy. Then select local economic development organizations will give five- to 10-minute presentations on their recent economic development efforts in Union County.

“The concept is to touch on the significant things they have done in the last 12 to 18 months, what they are currently doing and what is on the horizon,” Strope said.

Presenters include Lisa Dawson, executive director of Northeast Oregon Economic Development District; Dan Stark, executive director of Union County Economic Development Corporation; Judy Hector, chief executive officer of the Union County Chamber of Commerce; Charlie Mitchell, community and economic development director for the City of La Grande; and Karen Wagner, staff director of Oregon Rural Action. Dan Stark will also present for Union County.

The goal of the first hour is to provide everyone at the summit with a clear sense of what initiatives are happening with economic development in Union County.

Strope is most excited about what will happen next.

Summit participants will gather into small groups to provide validation, critiques and ideas.

“I’m envisioning eight or 10 people around a table,” Strope said. “We’re going to give them a series of questions: ‘Of the stuff you’ve just heard us talk about, what sounds good? Are there some things we ought not to be doing?’”

Strope believes that many people in the community, including current and retired business owners, have experience and ideas that would be helpful in the small group discussions. 

“You never really know where the nuggets are going to come from,” Strope said.

The summit will also provide opportunities for engagement for individuals who have something to bring to the table in terms of economic development but have not been given the chance to step forward and volunteer.

After hearing feedback from the small groups, key economic development players, including those who presented as well as others involved with economic development in Union County, will dialogue about the ideas that have been presented by the small groups as well as discuss potential next steps, partnerships and sharing of resources.

“The focus is really on getting the stakeholders involved and saying: ‘OK, what do we need to be doing? Are we doing it right? What can we do better?’” Strope said.