A pig farm near Island City? A pesticide plant outside of Union? Not every new business proposal is a good one, and our economic choices affect us every day. If we don't participate in the decision process, we will be its victims.
Always ask, "Who benefits? How does this project make this a healthier, safer, more integrated community?" Obviously we need projects that enrich Union County, not out-of-state corporations. We're still recovering from Walmart's assault on our downtown businesses.
The Thriving Places Index, recently developed in England, goes beyond the flaws of the GDP, which considers only goods and services exchanged for money. It measures sustainability, equality and local conditions based on three questions:
Is it a fair and equal place to live?
Is it sustainable enough so that future generations can flourish?
Are the conditions present for everyone to do well?
How would Union County rate? Without focus on sustainability, we can be sure that future generations will not flourish, and success will not be measured by economic vitality alone. It will include a healthy environment and a welcoming, interconnected diverse community.
What do we need?
Job opportunities that improve the environment: sustainable agriculture, vocational training in skills needed to build affordable housing and to upgrade homes and buildings with energy-efficiencies, development of green energy sources, stream rehabilitation and forest thinning projects.
Subsidies for local individuals who have a skill, a talent or a passion to share with us. Incubator business plans have been offered. They need to be developed and supported.
Plans to shelter and feed hundreds of refugees from the western side of the state in the event of a massive earthquake. That will also assure essential resilience in the face of local natural disasters or toxic spills.
What do we value?
Our beautiful natural setting and the wonderful facilities that make living here so pleasant: the university, theaters, restaurants, farmers market, museums, art center, bookstores, libraries, hospital and public services. None of these comes without a cost. We should willingly support them through our taxes and our patronage.
Get to know your county. Stop by nonprofit offices. You'll be impressed by all their activities and projects; perhaps you'll want to volunteer. Attend city and county meetings; elected officials need to hear from you. Explore the local shops. They usually offer far more than their signs indicate. It's fun to chat with owners and staff. Whether they've been here for decades or just started up, they're dedicated to providing the best service or products. They care about us. Amazon doesn't. Shopping locally brings us together, and that helps us flourish as a community.
We thrive when people volunteer their time and money for projects like the Elgin Opera House and the Elgin Health Center. We wouldn't have the Cook Memorial Library or the Liberty Theatre without generous citizens who invested in the community rather than the stock market.
Unlike many rural communities across the U.S., Union County isn't declining. Our population is growing at a measured rate, surely the envy of people who moved to Bend 20 years ago. We live in a beautiful natural area, unpolluted by major industries, with vast areas open for recreation. We have a wealth of talented, competent people. Retirees are moving here and young professionals are setting up new practices.
Union County is on its way to economic sustainability, and global challenges are creating opportunities for sustainable economies that we can't afford to ignore. What were the county's priorities 10 years ago? Be an informed citizen. Google UCEDC Publications, dive into the 2009 Strategic Plan and read pages 103-106.
We need volunteers and activists to share their skills and experience, to cooperate and develop a new set of priorities, work on them together. We can avoid past errors and build on our successes to create a new economic vision for Union County.