The region’s representative in the Oregon Legislature delivered some interesting remarks last week during a meeting hosted by the Union County Chamber of Commerce, comments that spark questions that need further clarification.
The good news is that Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, exuded a cautiously optimistic view of the state’s future tempered by an evaluation of the economic challenges the region faces.
In terms of economic development, Barreto said neighboring counties have an advantage because they offer cheap electricity, land and water. That is a wide-sweeping proclamation deserving more elaboration by Barreto. Do Baker and Umatilla counties truly offer such items so cheap? If so, why? And why can’t Union County do the same? If this statement is accurate, Barreto is disclosing a significant lack of resources that hamstring our local efforts for economic development.
Economic development — the process of re-energizing our local economy and delivering living-wage jobs — should not be just another nice idea. It requires facts and planning and determined hard work. If Barreto is correct, then he has done his constituents a service by pointing to a problem that must be solved before real economic prosperity can be reached.
There is always a lot of talk about economic development. New ideas pushed by new people are often rolled out onto the stage in the guise of a show horse but all too often — once one peeks behind the curtain — they evolve into yet another one-trick pony.
There are always those who will believe that we are doing just fine without spending a lot of time and money on economic development. Then there are the naysayers who assert that because of our agriculturally-based economy, true economic success for all will never be achieved.
That isn’t true and there is no better example of what can be done by leveraging agriculture than what is going on in Malheur County right now. There, a multimillion-dollar trans-rail facility — aimed to help the onion industry but will also help the entire county — is already moving down the road toward reality. With big help from Rep. Cliff Bentz, who represents Malheur County, onion producers and others in the county now have a viable path to the future that is paid for through the recently passed state transportation bill. The trans-rail facility is the culmination of years of bad economic times followed by collective, cooperating work and ideas. Folks in Malheur County decided to fix their economic issues, and they set goals to make that happen.
Even if Barreto is right, a similar thing can happen here. We have unique challenges but also unique offerings. Have we set goals and made plans to achieve them? Is the only thing holding us back ourselves?