This perspective is part two of two-part series on the local economy. Part one identified a number of directions that the county might take under current conditions and planning efforts by local economic development groups. The author opined that economic forces from outside the county, such as land/home buyers and tourism. This installment discusses how residents may take advantage of economic conditions.
One approach is to realize that change will happen, view this as presenting opportunities and then respond to take advantage of the opportunities. In this regard the economy and other dimensions of life in the county will be impacted by a number of interrelated issues, which can be viewed as priorities for action. These include, among others:
® Affordable housing, which is protected from the impacts of increasing property values and taxes to allow ordinary families to be able to afford them. Other communities and locations are having some successes in addressing this issue.
® The natural resource base is the foundation of the Wallowa County economy, desirable amenities and quality of life and must be sustained.
® An enabling business friendly environment and infrastructure that facilitate and support the profitability of new and established businesses, which in turn can provide additional jobs and decent incomes is essential and will likely require different business types, emphases and perhaps approaches than in the past.
® Land use planning that builds upon current land use policies resulting in the establishment of an orderly, well designed, functional, effective and aesthetically pleasing utilization of land for residential, business, recreational and cultural purposes is a priority. Unfortunately, the unknowns associated with Measure 37 and the recent US Supreme Court decision related to eminent domain cloud the issue.
® Quality education at the primary, secondary, tertiary and continuing educational levels is essential for Wallowa County's future. This should include, but not be limited to, good quality public school education with the requisite financial support and the presence, commitment, and activities of institutions of higher education to provide educational opportunities and conduct research relevant to Wallowa County.
® Knowledge, innovations, and ideas and their utilization are being increasingly recognized as significant drivers of economic growth and quality of life. It is important to establish and implement mechanisms and relationships both inside and outside the county that enable the county and its citizens and organizations to access, share and utilize knowledge, innovations and ideas for economic and other purposes. Knowing what is possible and to access relevant lessons learned by successes in similar situations elsewhere can be significant advantages.
® Training and augmentation of the work force will become important as the number and skills of the work force are influenced by economic growth. Lifelong learning opportunities will be needed and can have important impacts. Demographics suggest a need for increased numbers, capabilities, and training of the work force to support economic growth.
So what is different here? One answer is a mindset that recognizes the trends, the potential Scenario III, and the opportunities and understands the above list of potential priorities within that context. How these and other relevant topics can be addressed to be supportive of the values and desires of Wallowa County citizens is one of the challenges we face and will require careful and innovative thinking and approaches.
In essence it seems worthwhile to recognize the evolving circumstances and their potential impacts and attempt to modify them as appropriate and possible to yield the most desirable results. Undoubtedly, the results will not meet everyone's desires, but the alternative is to be carried away in a Scenario III type process and have little chance to influence outcomes. Failure to do so in a well-planned, strategic and committed way will result in the continuation and most likely the enhancement of negative trends and impacts indicated by some county citizens.
As indicated in the beginning, the current activities related to visioning and RDAT hold promise for useful input by fresh eyes. In addition, citizen responses to the Economic Action Team (EAT) questionnaire recently circulated can provide useful information not only to the RDAT, but also to Wallowa County citizens as we continue working for our desired future.
An important question looming over this discussion is who or what will conduct the necessary action to make desired activities, outcomes and impacts happen? In this regard, it is frequently easier to plan than to implement action to achieve desired impacts. Will implementation be done by the Chamber of Commerce, the county commissioners or their appointees, other city and governmental organizations, NEOEDD, a newly formed organization, an ad hoc group or groups of citizens or others? Any approach needs to be strategic as well as opportunistic building on past successes with effective planning and implementation. In the past there seems to have been more planning than action. Also at play will be the additional challenges of a countywide strategy and action plan that is congruent with and supportive of the desires, needs and opporunities of individual towns and communities.
Finally, I am not supportive of Scenario III, but it or a somewhat similar scenario is possible. It is hoped that this writing can be useful as we discuss and influence our individual and collective futures in Wallowa County.
James Henson is a resident of Wallowa County. He holds DVM an PhD degrees from Texas A&M University and Washington State University, where he served as a faculty member and administrator.