By Sandra Geiser-Messerle, Executive Director of the South Coast Development Council.
In recent weeks, our offices have been visited by an unusual number of concerned local residents. They share no obvious connection with each other – only that they live here, own property (diminished in value), and seek to have either friends or family remain or join them here. Still, they sought answers to the same questions
“Will there be an economic future here?”
“Will the coal (rail shipments) really come?”
“When will (the) LNG (project) be built?”
“What has to happen to make these things – and more -- happen here?”
It is energizing to hear from non-political folks about their keen desire to see a brighter, stronger economic future on the south coast. It’s human nature to feel affirmed when speaking to people of like minds…it’s far more comfortable than the alternative. I answered their questions with genuine enthusiasm in both the need for these projects, and that yes, they can happen here. After all, that belief is integral at the South Coast Development Council. It is the reason we exist.
In answering that last question, I spoke with conviction about the challenges to economic development in our region -- not only to potential new industries and projects, but to growing existing ones. “What needs to happen to make these things -- and more -- happen here?” Simply put, changes in the way our state – and federal government – views business and industry; addressing regulatory processes and excesses; updating our regional land use plans; workforce development and education initiatives; and quite honestly, the mindset of at least a generation. While a few challenges are local, many more are created from outside our area. In the past week, the City of Eugene considered an ordinance regarding coal shipments via rail as a City Council issue. Seriously?
It begs the question – If whole communities beyond our borders control that measure of power over our potential success, how do we make them understand the consequences of the absence of it in our area — even to their bottom line?
For years, this organization and its partners have taken serious South Coast economic development issues to leaders in Salem, Portland and D.C. We have stressed our need for family wage jobs; full utilization of our largest single economic asset, the Port of Coos Bay; protection of our commercial fishing industry; the address of an ever-expanding, arbitrary and punitive regulatory environment (as much at the federal level as state these days); the enhancement of our rural commercial airport; and more.
But maybe our message shouldn’t have started -- and ended -- there.
A year or more ago, my husband, Fred and I drove I-5, past Tigard, Lake Oswego and Wilsonville. Deep in thought, Fred made a poignant observation which both haunts and guides me. “You know, he said, “many of us rural and South Coast folks cannot grasp the prosperity that is metro Oregon; and metro Oregon cannot comprehend our poverty.”
We all need to do a better job of telling our story about economic challenges on the South Coast -- for the sake of our families, our children, our communities, and their personal bottom line – to the folks that vote for leaders and agendas -- at all levels -- beyond our borders. It is, ultimately, their pocket books that will be most affected if we are not allowed to prosper and chart our destiny here.
Those of us who desire to see a prosperous and viable South Coast need to convey our message in respectful, intellectual and individual voices to every layer of local, regional, state and federal government, as well as every family member and acquaintance throughout the state.