Sometimes the best way to achieve a series of economic development objectives is to narrow your focus to one.

The Union City Council had asked the Northeast Oregon Economic
Development District what Union needs in terms of economic development. At Wednesday’s city council work session, NEOEDD member Sara Miller said the city should start small.

“Make an investment in one area and it will help other areas,” Miller said after noting she was impressed with the breadth of ideas shared by the council.

Miller said, for example, that councilors discussed both growing from within and drawing in new businesses. She said focusing on the first may help achieve the latter.

If you grow from within, more outside businesses may want to come in,” she said.

Councilor Walt Brookshire, at the beginning of the work session, told the NEOEDD representatives that he believes Union needs more businesses that provide essential services like an auto repair shop and senior housing.

Brookshire noted too often people who have lived in Union most of their lives have to move to La Grande in their later years to live at a senior center.

Councilor Randy Knop said it is important not to forget the many businesses in Union that are not on Main Street. The city councilor said efforts need to be made to keep these businesses connected with the community.

Some councilors noted that many Union residents have jobs outside the city, making it a bedroom community. Councilor Sue Hawkins said if this is so, steps should be taken to accommodate the needs of residents working outside the city. These might include encouraging businesses to extend their hours.

Council Matt Later said Union should build on what it has rather than looking to lure outside businesses in.

“Instead of focusing on growth, we need to worry about the businesses we have,” he said. “We need to be as self-sustaining as possible. We don’t need to have something grandiose like a big box store.”

He suggest that Union’s city government needs to be careful not to overstep its bounds when trying to build up business.

“I would rather use carrots than sticks,” he said.

For example, Later said that he would opposed the city requiring businesses to have a uniform appearance. Instead he would encourage the city to say it would help businesses with their painting expenses if it chose colors that tied in with the city’s theme.

See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.