SEN. ARNIE ROBLAN
If opportunity were edible, the Oregon Coast would be capable of feeding many mouths. Up and down the coast from Brookings to Astoria, and particularly in Senate District 5 — the area I represent, stretching from Tillamook to Coos Bay — no one can dispute the stunning natural beauty and healthy living opportunities available to those who choose to make their homes here.
Still, for many reasons, we have struggled to attract many new working aged individuals or — sometimes most painfully — to retain and re-attract our own children to our communities. Lack of economic opportunity, whether real or perceived, is the primary motivating factor in these losses. Instead of pointing fingers, the only way to continue building on coastal economic successes is to continue finding common ground and working together.
When government, private business, the non-profit sector and community leaders are on the same page with the common goal, we can achieve a prosperous future for our children and grandchildren in our region.
I was encouraged by the large turnout at the fifth-annual Oregon Coast Economic Summit recently at The Mill Casino in North Bend. With more than 500 registered participants, it was the best attended so far. It also seems to have sparked several meaningful conversations that could potentially take shape into economic opportunities for the Oregon Coast. It will take a diverse approach with many different players to carve out that bright future we all seek, and we hope that these conversations will spur some of those opportunities.
Natural resources will continue to be a big part of the mix, with Oregon’s world-class timber products, seafood, cranberries, dairy products, tulips and other traditional mainstays. Additionally, new industries are emerging. Craft breweries up and down the coast are thriving and some are gaining international attention for the quality of their products. Capitalizing on the natural beauty of the area, we can garner greater market share in eco-tourism and recreation. We already boast renowned golfing opportunities, but there are other recreational possibilities just waiting to be tapped that can translate into new and thriving local businesses.
Visitors are a key component of our economic growth, not just for the money they spend here, but more for the seed that we can plant with them. When people visit a place and fall in love with it — as most of us who live on the Oregon Coast already have done — they will want to bring their new or existing businesses here to stay. This creates long-term employment for our residents. And when a retiring worker leaves the workforce, they have the freedom and flexibility to choose where they want to live. When they move to our coastal and rural areas for the exceptional quality of life, retirees purchase goods and services in our communities, creating jobs. They have houses built, and they volunteer in the community. We can’t forget those valuable contributions to our economy and our communities.
As the population continues to grow on the coast, particularly in the retirement segment, new opportunities are developing in the health care industry — often for jobs that are difficult to fill in rural communities around the state. These are great opportunities to make a good living and help people in our communities. We need to continue providing necessary incentives to attract top level health care talent to coastal and rural communities. This takes partnership, as well. Working together, we can address this need. To that end, I will be participating in several Health Care Rural Listening Tour meetings in Coos Bay, Florence and Lincoln City.
How do we retain and re-attract our young rural Oregonians? They are perhaps one of our greatest exports right now. It’s natural for those graduating from high school to want to leave and experience other parts of the state, nation or world. But when we create an enduring fondness through a positive childhood in our coastal communities, eventually many of them will want to come back home to raise their own families. They also will start and grow businesses, create opportunities and bring back an innate sense of passion for their community.
To accomplish these goals we need involvement from all sectors — public, private and non-profit — and have all hands on deck. We can continue rebuilding our coastal economy together through diverse, creative and meaningful partnerships. We can break down barriers to economic success by creating smoother interactions between government and private business, as well as non-profits, so that it is easier to find solutions and opportunities while preserving our outstanding quality of life. By doing this, we can become a shining example.
It’s like the good Sen. Ron Wyden said during the Economic Summit, “America’s rural agenda begins right here on the Oregon Coast.”
It can, and it should. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Sen. Arnie Roblan represents District 5, which includes Coos Bay, Florence, Newport and Tillamook. He is chair of the Senate Committee on Education