A look back at the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy developed five years ago reveals significant progress toward regional goals.

Now, it is time for the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, made up of Wallowa, Baker and Union Counties, to sharpen and reemphasize those goals.

To that end, a small group of interested parties gathered March 7 at Community Connection in Enterprise to learn more and provide local feedback.

A group of 145 individuals from the three counties including business leaders, government leaders and citizens has already created a draft of values, meant to be a starting point for the development of ideas to increase interaction between the three counties to develop their economic strength.

A key finding in discussions begun in January 2018 was the importance of collaboration across county lines to help develop better-paying jobs and diversify the economy of the region.

At this point the draft is an overview of the values of the communities, which include connected to nature, an engaged community, an entrepreneurial community, family friendly, a healthy active lifestyle and more.

Those values are meant to shape and control economic growth going forward so that development is driven by local values rather than imposed by outside sources.

“This strategy informs what we want to do,” said workshop leader Lisa Dawson, executive director of NEOEDD.

During group discussion, the Wallowa representatives recommended the development of conversation meetings so that citizens could share their values and ideas in less formal settings, and build projects and enthusiasm from the ground up.

The value of such conversations became clear as the Wallowa group worked to identify what it believed were the top issues hampering economic growth in the county and identified specific projects.

Members of the Wallowa County group included County Commissioner Susan Roberts, Joseph Mayor Dennis Sands, Rep. Walden’s aide Cathleen Cathy, Jean Jancaitis, director of programs for Wallowa Resources and Enterprise residents Christopher Lestenkof and Steve Hines.

Among the projects recommended by the Wallowa County group was the development of broadband or high speed Internet connections in the county, developing shovel-ready industrial sites (small to large), continued development of mirco-hydro and other alternative energy sources, development of food independence and a food systems network in the county, and continued development of timber resources in the form of biochar and other wood products.

Although these areas of focus are carryovers, growth had been seen in every area, and the new plan will build on strengths already demonstrated.

Residents are already familiar with the growth of the food systems network through farm-to-school programs, the SNAP match program for farmer’s market, creation of a food systems council and other projects in Wallowa County. The development of a greenhouse community garden for Enterprise is the newest project, recently proposed and being developed by workshop participant Christoper Lestenkof.

The Chieftain will examine two more of the areas where significant progress has been made, the development of broadband and the development of shovel-ready industrial sites, in a future issue.

Completion of the process also helps NEOEDD staff identify potential funding sources for projects.

“Having plans certainly helps when going for grants for specific projects,” said County Commissioner Susan Roberts.

Citizens are encouraged to comment. A survey will be posted online at neoedd.org. That online survey closes March 21.

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