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Keeping the rural connection

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Articles - February 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Readers of this magazine know that we take seriously the mission to cover the entire state, not just the larger cities and the Portland Metro area.

Over the past year, our coverage of rural Oregon has included a thousand-mile journey to assess the health of Main Street, a special report on the challenges facing once-thriving timber towns, the emergence of the Southern Oregon wine region and the shifting fortunes of small-town newspapers. And those were just the big stories. We also have written about an Eagle Point mill project, the strategy of Tillamook cheese, a bookbindery run by monks in Lafayette and the travails of the Hotel Condon.

The depth and breadth of rural coverage in this issue includes an update on the Coast’s crab season, grass seed farmers switching to wheat, the nascent olive oil industry and an interview with the new head of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. And the two biggest rural stories come courtesy of ace contributor Adrianne Jeffries, who writes about the efforts to bring broadband to remote areas and the financial need that drives rural counties to accept landfills.

The broadband issue is a long-standing one. Lack of high-speed connections puts some rural parts of the state at a big disadvantage for attracting business. With rural areas suffering from huge unemployment (Crook County’s rate is around 17%), putting some stimulus money to work there could bring a concrete payoff for rural towns that desperately struggle to diversify their economies.

The “Married to the Dump” cover story was born from a deeper curiosity about the jobs impact that landfills have on their host counties after we looked into why Gilliam County’s unemployment rate was, and is, so much lower than the rest of the state’s. One reason is the Arlington dump. Jeffries spent weeks visiting Arlington and several other landfills around the state, talking to townspeople and waste management officials and digging into the dump economy. She found a surprising relationship between counties and landfills.

We will continue to examine the complex issues facing Oregon, with a deep interest in the rural communities. Sometimes out of sight means out of mind, and I hope our coverage keeps city-dwellers connected to their rural neighbors. The urban-rural divide is hard to maintain when each knows a little more about the other.

Robin Doussard
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