Recently, the Statesman Journal published an article noting the growing economic discrepancy between rural and urban areas of our state. While the growth of urban development is certainly not a bad thing, the growth of cities at the expense of rural communities does an economic disservice to the state. There are policy and regulatory decisions our state could make that creates better economic development opportunities for rural counties, something I fought for in my years in the legislator. I did so because I personally witnessed the rapid decline in rural communities I represented because of public policy changes in the 90’s and later years.

This is because rural regions of Oregon typically rely on more traditional industries, like farming and timber production for their economic development. These are the industries that have been hardest hit by these same policy and regulatory changes (not to mention our latest recession) and as a result, in the greatest need for economic development, not to mention the rural communities where they are located.

Oregon has economic and export opportunities before us today, like the proposed export expansion made possible by private investment in coal exports. Projects, like these, provide a fundamental boost to local employment and tax revenue, spurring economic development. Traditional industries, natural resource and manufacturing however, have had a difficult time getting authorization for new opportunities in our state.  So much so, that when I entered the Oregon Legislature in the late 90’s, the Governor created a special Executive Branch team to deal with bureaucratic roadblocks to such rural economic development, an effort that continues to this day.  I find it a bit ironic that the same Governor who created such a ‘Community Solutions’ team is the same one trying to stop the development of the Port of Morrow coal export terminal, something that will greatly benefit many rural communities.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, at the Governor’s request, Oregon went into a special session in December to ensure our state gave Nike a tax incentive to develop here. While any economic development is a good thing, the contrast between our state’s treatments of Nike with the proposed export expansion is striking. As the recent recession has shown, no single industry can sustain our entire state’s economy.

As a farmer, I understand that expanded export opportunities provide new export opportunities for the products my farm yields.  In order for rural Oregon to thrive again, our state’s leadership needs to understand that economic diversity will allow our entire state to thrive.  If they stop creating economic winners and losers with unfair policy and regulatory changes, all of Oregon will benefit. A little rural food for thought.