Eastern Oregonians Explore Opportunities for the New Natural Resource Economy

By Aniko Drlik-Muehleck

Ranch near Baker City, OR

In partnership with the Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation (GEODC) and Northeast Oregon Economic Development District (NEOEDD), the CSC recently hosted a series workshops in Ontario, Pendleton, John Day, and La Grande to identify ways to strengthen Eastern Oregon’s New Natural Resource Economy (NNRE).

Over 40 participants, including representatives of economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, visitor associations, community colleges, City and County staff, and elected officials, gathered together to think creatively about the next steps for natural resource-based economic development in Eastern Oregon. Those who attended discussed the findings of the CSC’s recent work with NNRE businesses and put their heads together to identify “opportunity projects” that might benefit NNRE businesses and the organizations committed to supporting them.

Three key themes emerged across all the workshops:

  • Coordination of Economic Development Efforts: There are many layers and levels of organizations “doing” economic development, but those organizations don’t always know what all the other economic developers are working on, or what resources might be available to them. Workshop attendees mentioned a few possible solutions to this issue:
    • Compile a list of resources and organizations, held in a central place, that will make it easier for everyone to know what everyone else is doing.
    • Create more opportunities for in-person interactions of all the organizations doing economic development. These meetings should be centered around solving specific issues so that everyone has a clear purpose for being in the room together. It is also important to involve businesses in these problem-solving processes.
  • Youth Engagement: There is a lot of interest and energy around youth entrepreneurship and providing real world learning experiences for K-12, community college, and college students. Indeed, a lot is already happening in this arena. Kids and young adults should interact early on and frequently with natural resource professions so that they begin to see opportunities for living and working in the communities where they grow up. At the same time, it is important to expose children to the idea that they can start their own business someday, not just work for someone else.
  • Building Trust with the Business Community: It is critical for economic developers to meet businesses on their own turf. Businesses have limited time and capacity; they need support that is targeted and not a waste of their time. Rather than expecting businesses to seek out assistance from economic developers, economic developers need to be proactive, integrating themselves into the business community so businesses view them as trustworthy, with something useful to offer.

For the full list of issues discussed and opportunity projects identified, browse through the document below, and think about how you might like to be involved, or initiate similar projects in your community!