1000 Friends Trains Advocates for Central Oregon Regional Economic Development

Yesterday in Bend, 1000 Friends hosted an advocate training for Deschutes County residents, to help them prepare testimony for an upcoming Planning Commission hearing which will determine whether to adopt the tri-county region's Regional Economic Opportunity Assessment (REOA) into the Deschutes County Comprehensive Plan.

The REOA is an attempt by regional leaders to determine whether there is a 20-year supply of employment lands within Deschutes, Jefferson, and Crook Counties, and to explore how to attract additional employers to boost the region's economic development.

1000 Friends' Central Oregon Advocate Pam Hardy took the group of 12 through the slide presentation she will present at the hearing on Thursday, August 11, and gave the group an overview of her findings. While the REOA is a good first step toward outlining a plan for economic growth over the next 20 years, she explained, it is not yet complete.

Hardy believes that a thorough REOA should spend considerable time looking at the overall strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations of the community.  Evidence should be sought that will help decision makers understand what strategies are most likely to grow the local economy.

Instead, the REOA was focused only on making large lots (50-200 acres) available in Central Oregon.  The report did not ask whether that was a productive economic strategy.  Hardy believes the focus should be companies that provide good jobs, not just companies that require a lot of land.  

Large acreage does not necessarily mean a lot of jobs.  The data center in Prineville used more than 100 acres, but will provide only 35 long term jobs.  If Central Oregon wants more data centers--which require large acreage and heavy usage of power and water, but provide very few jobs--this should be concluded based on a broad regional outreach effort. The REOA did not conduct such an effort.

Furthermore, Hardy’s research shows that most large companies requiring large lots, such as Intel or Boeing, need population centers of more than 300,000 and require an interstate highway, or seaport--all things that Central Oregon does not have.

In place of the current assessment, participants at the advocate training discussed their desire for a REOA that focuses on the assets that Central Oregon does have including a great climate for solar energy; incredible recreational opportunities, burgeoning high-tech and biotech clusters, and a university with degrees in hotel management, environmental engineering, culinary science, and natural resources. None of the industries, which employ thousands of Central Oregon residents, require large rural lots to do business.

1000 Friends looks forward to working with local residents and regional leaders to pursue a path for Central Oregon economic development that builds on the region's existing assets, rather than pinning our hopes on industries that provide few jobs and are not certain to ever come to the region.

To learn more about the central Oregon REOA, and how to get involved, please visit our REOA website. Or contact Pam Hardy at pam@friends.org.