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County hears plea for projects

Wasco County Economic Development Commission (EDC) staff member Amanda Hoey recently requested $45,000 from the county to address pressing 2015 fiscal year staffing needs in time to “really get moving” on projects that could help stimulate regional economies.

The $45,000, Hoey told the Board of Commissioners March 19, includes the $35,000 that the county has historically awarded the Economic Development Commission, along with an additional $10,000 in funding that will allow them “to directly support and move forward projects included on the Community Enhancement Priorities list.”

“The staff are already giving us much more of their time and energy than we can pay them for,” Hoey said. “We’re not asking for the money it would take to pay for that today. The $10,000 is the only addition to what you’re already giving them, and will make it so that we can try and get staffing to a point where we have the ability to move forward on our highest priority projects.”

The Economic Development Commission met in The Dalles in February to conduct an annual review of projects that have opportunity to advance economic development in the area. The Development Commission heard 41 separate project presentations, of which 32 were ranked and approved.

Number one among the community enhancement project rankings provided by the Development Commission is the Port of The Dalles’ regional general wetland permit. However, also included in the top five are the Washington Street pedestrian underpass and plaza, addressing the issues of downtown parking, the industrial park fireflow waterline, developing a “room to read” children’s library addition and facilitating much-needed Mosier well repairs.

Another strategic priority of the EDC is to provide support for the expansion of broadband internet in rural communities as well as increase the rate of adoption for those services, particularly when it comes to business development purposes.

In a coordinated effort with Keith Mobley of MCEDD, the Economic Development Commission hosted a broadband applications event at the Balch Hotel in Dufur on March 13, which highlighted local businesses that already use broadband to successfully augment their business and further supported their business models.

“The main question we were asking ourselves in that forum,” Hoey said, “was ‘how do we increase what we have available for our rural areas?’ Through the efforts of our economic development district, we worked to identify some of the resources we have that could be used to improve our offerings in certain areas.”

“There are so many things going on in this county that we just don’t know about and which are happening through the internet and with the use of broadband,” Wasco County Commissioner Rod Runyon commented. “It’s a really important economic issue to address, and I encourage all of you to attend the next meeting at the Imperial River Company in Maupin.”

Hoey said that although the next meeting’s time is not currently finalized, attending the meeting would be a “great opportunity for those interested to learn more about what’s going on.”

Development Commission staff have also offered assistance to the South Wasco County broadband initiative. Partially funded by the Washington Department of Commerce and developed by the Gorge Project, the commission is working to “reinvigorate” the Gorge Telecommunications broadband site, which commission staff are currently working to develop into an “accurate and dynamic” county page that will help promote a “clear understanding of available broadband resources.”

Members of the Economic Development Commission staff recently reached out to the University of Oregon to launch a study that will produce an “analysis of the economic impact of events in Wasco County,” with the overall focus being to identify which events attract “primarily non-local attendees and those that would generally have people staying overnight;” in other words, ones that would have the most potential to bring money into the county.

An analysis of the impact such events have on the county will be conducted over the course of the U of O spring semester, and Hoey said she expects the project to be completed sometime in June 2014.

“The only way to move forward with any one of these initiatives involves time and money,” Hoey said. “Realistically, progress could be delayed another 20 or even 30 years from now if we don’t get moving on these projects and try to at least get some of them accomplished. If we don’t, we’re going to be looking at ghost towns, and nobody wants that.”

Hoey said the Development Commission will continue to plan for their April 2 event with the Oregon Business Council in The Dalles. The commission’s next meeting is to take place in Maupin and is slated for April 17.

For more information about the Wasco County Economic Development Commission or the area projects that are currently underway, visit http://co.wasco.or.us/county/wcedc/index.cfm or call (541) 296-2266.

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