THE LOSS OF TIMBER MONEY. The loss of rural programs. The loss of the Office of Rural Policy. Even air service to rural communities is getting sliced.
The roll call of losses, recent or historic, could easily discourage the hardiest of souls. But that wouldn’t be the nature of Oregon’s rural leaders.
Weary of watching rural resources notably dwindle in the past year, they’ve decided, as retired Gilliam County Judge Laura Pryor puts it, that “maybe we just have to do it ourselves. There isn’t any money, the dollar is in trouble, there’s a war. We just have to face facts.”
So rural leaders are doing just that and are launching the first Oregon Rural Congress, which will be held Aug. 21-22 at the port facilities in Cascade Locks. The event’s organizers are focusing on discussing solutions to the daunting number of issues facing the state’s rural economies: the dwindling and volatile natural resource-based industries; the inadequacy of rural infrastructure, especially county roads and telecommunications; the challenges of delivering health care to residents; the shrinking financial support for rural initiatives and communities.
“We are behind the eight ball going into the next century in rural Oregon,” says Hood River County commissioner Maui Meyer. “We have no infrastructure and no ability to recover and lead the way. It’s going to be a difficult and troublesome road if we don’t come up with some solutions.”
Meyer sees rural Oregon as ill-prepared to meet and best the many issues facing it right now. “As our state becomes more and more dependent upon our resources, we want to stop first and have a baseline conversation about our end of the bargain,” he says.
Pryor sees the congress as the first step in a long journey. Solving rural problems “isn’t something you do overnight,” she says. “You don’t have foundations in rural Oregon, You don’t have big business groups, like the Portland Business Alliance. We hope to come up with some directives for ourselves, the Legislature, the Oregon Business Plan, the state agencies.”
The always direct Pryor, who helped get the Office of Rural Policy started and also watched as the Legislature pulled its funding this year, says she hopes “ground-level people in the region show up. I don’t care about the electeds.”
Whatever the turnout, the congress is an impressive show of spirit, smarts and strategy. Whatever the outcome, it’s a gathering that’s unlikely to remain silent, or to accept defeat.