Summit tackles wide range of economic issues

By Dick Mason, The Observer April 03, 2013 12:14 pm

 

Randy Jones, of the Department of Environmental Quality, takes notes during Tuesday’s Economic Summit at the Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande. Chris Baxter/The Observer
Randy Jones, of the Department of Environmental Quality, takes notes during Tuesday’s Economic Summit at the Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande. Chris Baxter/The Observer

by Dick Mason/The Observer

What should and should not be done to boost economic growth and stability in Union County?

A wide range of possible answers were presented at an Economic Summit Tuesday at the Blue Mountain Conference Center. Some ideas were conventional and others, like one involving education, pushed the envelope.

Sandra Patterson, speaking on behalf of one of the approximately 10 small groups which conducted brainstorming sessions at the summit, said her contingent believed the creation of a single Union County high school should be considered. This would mean all six of the public high schools in Union County would be merged into one. The result might be a high school with qualities making it one of the best in the state.

“It would stand out and hopefully attract more people to Eastern Oregon,’’ said Patterson, the city administrator of Union.

Patterson’s group suggested that if such a high school is not built, a vocational technical high school be constructed in Union County. She said there is a need for such a school because school districts have been cutting vocational programs back in recent years. 

Education was also a point of emphasis in a presentation by Terry Edvalson of La Grande, another group spokesman. Edvalson said people in this area should focus on developing strong schools and health care services. 

“Families considering moving here always want to know if we have quality education and health care,’’ Edvalson said.

Randy Jones of La Grande said that his group believed that money should be invested in art and cultural programs. Jones said there is a multiplier effect regarding art and culture, for every dollar invested in it by a community is returned several times.

About 60 people attended the Economic Summit, which was open to everyone and sponsored by the La Grande City Council and the Union County Board of Commissioners. All groups were asked to come up with ideas for addressing what would boost economic development, but also what steps being taken now should be stopped. 

 Agri-tourism is an area some people believe should possibly be steered clear of. John Lackey of La Grande, speaking for his group, said the grain crops raised in Union County are not the kind which likely would draw people for farm tours. 

 Jones said that in his group some questioned investments in alternative energy sources like wind and solar. Some said there is no conclusive data indicating that the return on investment make such expenditures worthwhile. Jones emphasized, however, that about half the people in his group believed that investing in alternative energy would yield a rewarding return over the long term. 

 The input received from the summit will be evaluated later in a meeting of leaders of economic development groups.