After a year of preparation, the Rural Design Assistance Team (RDAT) is coming to Wallowa County next week.

A committee of county residents and leaders have been hard at work in the past year laying the groundwork for this team of national leaders to work with the local community "for the purpose of enhancing the economic environment and vitality of Wallowa County while maintaining its quality of life, aesthetic beauty and environmental attributes," to quote from the project's mission statement.

The team, headed by chairwoman Jane Willeboordse, will arrive in Wallowa County next Wednesday, Oct. 11, and be working through Oct. 17, when a final presentation to the community is planned for 11 a.m.

The final planning meeting for the local Economic Development Team (EAT), the group which has been preparing for RDAT, will be held Thursday (today), beginning at noon, in the Toma's Conference Room, located in the Business Center building in Enterprise.

All EAT task team chairs, members and all volunteers, including those interested in volunteering are strongly encouraged to attend this meeting.

"Right now I am very pleased with the response on the (RDAT) surveys, the people expressing interest in volunteering, the increase in meeting attendance, people coming forward to offer their homes for lodging and their personal cars for RDAT members' use. Businesses are offering meals, lodging, transportation, the Troy/Flora area planning for the RDAT visit and so on," said EAT chairman Skip Novakovich.

"There seems to be a peaked excitement and interest at just the right time," he added.

The RADT, a group of professionals from a variety of fields, will work very closely and intensely with county residents to learn about county challenges and then try to consolidate the ideas of a wide spectrum of local people into a series of recommendations for innovative economic growth. Only one community in the country a year is selected to be the focus of such attention, and this year, Wallowa County is the one.

The assistance design team program is affiliated with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), which initiated the concept in the mid-1960s.

In the past, most of the groups have been called Urban Assistance Design Teams, reflecting the fact that they dealt with issues in city communities.

Novakovich was closely involved in one of the team's projects, "Bridge to Bridge/River to River" in Kennewick, Wash., in 2004.

Some of the goals the team expects to address includes increasing family wage jobs, retaining and bringing back the county's young people, broadening the tax base in a sustainable manner; enhancing support of schools and providing infrastructure and services for existing and new businesses to flourish.

Baltimore architect Willeboordse, AIA, was selected as chairperson by Peter Batchelor, a professor emeritus of architecture and urban design at the College of Design, North Carolina State University, who has rich history of putting together teams to work with communities on thinking creatively about their future.

Willeboordse brings 20 years of experience in architecture and environmental design, and is a veteran of two previous design assistance teams (Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1992 and Kennewick, Wash., in 2004) and recently implemented results of a similar design team visit for Dundalk, Md. Her extensive experience parallels many Wallowa County issues: housing, environmental design, community capacity building and long-term economic restructuring.

"During the previous 37 years, design assistance teams have provided American communities with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment as well as extensive employment opportunities," Willeboordse said. "The Wallowa County RDAT is expected to continue this tradition of innovation geared towards economic redevelopment, while maintaining this extraordinarily beautiful natural environment."

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