One Oregon – Bridging Oregon’s Rural/Urban Divide

Oregon is blessed with many unique geographic regions. Each area enjoys its own individual beauty, culture and assets. And each region offers its own natural and human resources capable of sustaining the economy of today while creating new opportunities for the economy of tomorrow. Oregon has an incredible combination of geography accessible to the world, sustainably-managed and renewable natural resources, and innovative, independent-minded people who share the values of economic opportunity and environmental stewardship.

But for too long, too many of Oregon’s small towns and rural communities have been left-out and left-behind as they seek to chart their future and nurture economic opportunities. The result is excessive unemployment and poverty along with destructive social consequences like drug addiction, domestic violence, and homelessness. In addition, local school and government tax bases grow fragile, resulting in cuts to education, public safety and social services, in places and at times when they are needed most.

Despite record low statewide unemployment and state government collecting more tax revenue than ever before, too many Oregonians aren’t sharing in this prosperity and experience hardships from decisions and policies related to Oregon’s so-called rural-urban divide. Unemployment in rural Oregon counties continues to be persistently at higher rates than in urban areas.  

“After seven years of uneven economic recovery, 17 out of Oregon’s 23 rural counties remain below peak employment.”

– State of Oregon Employment Department

Knute Buehler doesn’t believe Oregon’s rural-urban divide is an immovable feature of the natural landscape. He understands it is an artificial political divide resulting from policy, personnel and political choices made every day in Salem and Washington, D.C. by elected officials and unelected government employees.

These choices can either heal divisions – or make them worse. Oregon’s leaders have the unique opportunity and responsibility to consciously build a more united Oregon with more balanced policies that include all Oregonians no matter who you are, where you live, or how you register to vote.

In the face of division and hardship, Oregonians from rural communities remain resilient and hopeful about their future. What they lack is a government that cares, and leaders who will listen, learn and lead.

The world needs more safe, high-quality foods and nobody can produce it better than Oregon’s farmers, ranchers and fishermen. The world needs more quality and innovative wood products, and no one can make them better than Oregon workers and mills. And the world needs clean, affordable energy, and no place is better positioned to deliver it than Oregon’s International Port of Coos Bay. As Congressman, Knute Buehler will be a partner in helping rural communities realize their dreams and achieve their full potential.

7 Big Important Goals to Bridge Oregon’s Rural-Urban Divide and Close the Achievement and Opportunity Gap

1. An Accessible Congressman who Listens in Every County, Every Year

Oregon is a big state with many small towns and far-away places that rarely see an elected state leader – but those smaller communities are as much a part of the state as our big cities. The difference in issues and concerns from Oregonians in Harney, Grant and Wallowa counties may be as different as those from Oregonians in Bend or Medford – but all are important and all need to be heard.

In total, nonmetro Oregon had per capita personal income (PCPI) of $37,332 in 2015, while metro Oregon’s was $45,040.

– State of Oregon Employment Department

2. Approve the Jordan Cove Energy Center at the Port of Coos Bay

For more than a decade, a $7.5 billion natural gas energy facility has been under consideration at Jordan Cove in Coos Bay. Coos County and Oregon’s south coast area has been of the most economically hard hit regions of the state for many years.

The International Port of Coos Bay, with its direct access to the Pacific Ocean, Asia and other world markets, is ideally positioned to play a key role in delivering clean-burning natural gas energy to waiting world populations that will use the energy regardless of its origin.  In addition, the necessary private investments envisioned for the Port and surrounding areas to make the facility a reality will create long-lasting benefits for other industries and job-creation opportunities along the South Coast and Southern Oregon regions.

The proposed facility is one of the largest private investments ever proposed in Oregon, creating 3,500 construction jobs over 2 to 4 years that pay an average of $80,000 a year – double the average annual income in Southern Oregon counties. It will create 250 permanent, high-paying jobs with good benefits. And Jordan Cove will generate more than $40 million a year in state taxes and $60 million a year in revenues to support local schools and services in Coos, Douglas, Jackson, Lake and Klamath counties. While located in Coos County, the energy center would be a massive economic boost for all of southern Oregon and part of eastern Oregon – creating jobs, boosting incomes, generating new tax revenues and building new infrastructure. And with economic benefits, hope and opportunities will return to communities devastated by years of recession, depression and indifference from state leaders.

The project requires federal, state and local support from various government agencies. Local officials in Coos County – including local Democratic state legislators – strongly support the project.

It’s time to support the Jordan Grove Energy Center at the International Port of Coos Bay and will champion the appropriate state and federal permits and approvals so construction can get underway after years of delay.

3. Defend Free Trade & Open Markets for Oregon Products

One in seven Oregon jobs is trade-related, uniquely uniting Oregon-grown agricultural products from rural communities with port jobs in and around Portland. Importantly, Oregon is a gateway exporter for products grown and made in Oregon and all across the nation. In 2017, Oregon exported more than $5 billion in agricultural products alone, making agriculture a top economic driver in the state. Oregon’s top 5 agricultural export markets include Japan, South Korea, Canada, China and the Philippines.

Knute Buehler is a strong advocate for free trade, open markets and Oregon producers – no matter which President or political party holds the White House or Congress.

Free trade and open markets are good for all of Oregon.

4. Enhance Business & Education with 100% Statewide High-Speed Broadband Access by 2025

In today’s economy, high-speed broadband access isn’t a luxury – it is a necessity. While most Oregonians enjoy easy access to fast broadband Internet service – essential for commerce, jobs, education and many consumer needs – many rural Oregonians are still waiting for reliable, fast Internet service.  High-speed broadband deployment is an economic development imperative to attract high-tech and remote-worker jobs to rural areas.

It’s time we direct Business Oregon, the state economic development agency, to lead an interagency effort to coordinate and maximize federal broadband grants that are currently not being secured due to lack of coordination and competing priorities at the state level. He will take an “all of the above” approach to broadband development – wireless and wired – and push for a common strategy among local and state cable and telecommunications regulators.  To encourage faster adoption of next-generation wireless, he will propose limits on local government fees on wireless transmission installations.

According to the National Broadband Map, only about 55% of people living in rural areas have access to speeds that qualify as broadband, compared with 94% of the urban population.

– State of Oregon Employment Department

5. Foster Rural Job Growth From Fully Funded Career & Technical Education

There is increasing student interest, societal recognition and economic demand for well-paying skills and trade-based career paths in areas ranging from health care to technology and construction. The seeds of these future jobs and careers are planted and nurtured in middle- and high-school years. Oregon voters recognized the importance of career education when they approved Ballot Measure 98 by 66% in 2016.

We must fully fund career and technical education and ensure rural communities receive their fair share of CTE/STEM funding and resources. Career and technical education (CTE/STEM) is especially important in rural communities to ensure that young people have the skills, particularly in manufacturing and health care fields, to fuel job growth and meet the anticipated skills needs over the next decade. And he will incentivize training of medical personnel by providing a seed fund to stimulate rural residency medical training programs for primary care and mental health providers in rural communities.

6. Invest in Essential Water Resource Infrastructure

As Oregon’s population has grown, public investment in essential water infrastructure has not kept pace. This is critically important in many rural communities where manufacturing, agriculture and food processing industries rely on access to water to protect and grow jobs.

Knute believes in making planning and funding of water infrastructure a higher priority to ensure water users have greater certainty on timelines and outcomes.

7. A Champion for Sustainable Forestry & Jobs

Oregon’s timber and forest products industry has a proud legacy and a dynamic future. Oregon is the largest lumber producer in the nation, and in many rural communities’ timber and forest-products jobs remain the backbone of the local economy. Oregon is a premier timber-growing region, with unrivaled manufacturing expertise.  Oregon State University is among the most prestigious forestry schools in the world.  The state of Oregon pioneered sustainable forestry with the passage of the state Forest Practices Act in the early 1970s – a law requiring the replanting of trees and advancing strict environmental safeguards. Forest policy and management in Oregon is complex because of the unique mixture of federal, state, tribal and private lands that all play different roles in providing wood products, wildlife habitat, recreation and scenic vistas. Today, about 75% of Oregon’s annual timber harvests come from private lands.

Forest lands will be actively managed to reduce the threat of catastrophic fires and to promote stronger, healthier, more resilient forests.  Oregon businesses can lead the way in creating innovative engineered building materials to meet the growing world-wide demand for durable, beautiful and sustainably manufactured wood products. And Oregon forests can help combat climate change by generating renewable energy from biomass and by pulling in and storing man-made carbon from the air and sequester it in  wood products and buildings of all types.