Do you smile when you think about the years ahead? I do and you should, too. Were at a point of unique opportunity in this age of information. Weve navigated well enough through this revolutions formative years to begin to harness the real potential of our digital future.
What benefits does this future hold for rural Oregon? How will cutting-edge technologies help increase regional competitiveness?
Lets look to Missouri.
A little over 8,000 souls call Perryville, Missouri home. This town is not unlike those scattered throughout rural Oregon, with one exception: enormous manufacturing facilities that employ thousands.
With an expanding portfolio of companies that produce goods as diverse as breakfast cereals, aerospace components, and even oak wine barrels,
Perryville has an unemployment rate around 5 percent, well below state and national levels as well as low tax rates owing to their growing tax base.
Natural advantages certainly had a hand in their success. Perryville is located along an interstate and a commercially-strategic point along the Mississippi River. Politics have played a role over the decades as the people of Perryville elected representatives friendly to business. Groups like their local economic development authority have also proven instrumental to their success.
But the secret to their rise, the factor most responsible for these outcomes, is the good people of Perryville. Like rural Oregon, Perryville owes much to the legacy of pioneers whose values and work ethic set a course for an enduring prosperity.
We possess every ingredient to make this happen, but rural Oregons path to Perryville will not clear overnight. There are steps we need to take, summits we need to host, relationships in which we need to invest, and partnerships in which we need to engage if we are to foster new opportunities, build on the gains we have made, and realize our economic potential.
For example, the National Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Consortium is a public-private partnership that facilitates mentor-protégé relationships between research universities such as Purdue University and multinationals like John Deere, Lockheed Martin and General Electric and small- to medium-sized companies (also known as SMEs) in their supply chains and/or geographic proximity.
The multinationals participate to encourage more capable suppliers, and the SMEs participate to access high performance computing modeling and simulation technologies. Access to technologies once exclusive to multinationals, national laboratories, and research institutions allow SMEs to perform stress calculations, test aerodynamics, and explore other product features in digital spaces.
No longer are participating SMEs solely reliant on producing and testing costly and time-consuming physical prototypes. In most cases, they are able to lower operating costs, cut time-to-market, and realize innovations that would otherwise be unthinkable.
Plainfield, Indiana-based pallet designer and manufacturer Jeco Plastics is one such SME. With the support of NDEMC and Purdue University, Jeco developed a new type of pallet and challenged state-sponsored companies in China and Russia to win a multi-million dollar contract award from a major European auto manufacturer.
Consider Behlen Manufacturing a Columbus, Neb.-headquartered
manufacturer of building systems and livestock equipment, among other steel fabricated products of interest to rural operations. Behlen employs roughly 50 people in a manufacturing facility in Baker City and is exactly the type of company that would benefit from partnerships like NDEMC.
From saddles to blankets, we rural Oregonians have always been makers. Lets embrace our history. Like Perryville, lets work to attract and retain those who will promote breakthrough innovations, manufacture at scale, and execute rapid commercialization under our skies.
America remains the worlds top producer, but we have surrendered important manufacturing sectors to Asia and other parts of the world. These sectors were not all lost in the pursuit of inexpensive labor, or because products became low-margin commodities. We lost production because tax, finance, workforce, regulatory and infrastructure limitations made foreign production more attractive.
I have every expectation that rural Oregon will develop into a hub for world-class, innovative manufacturing, and every confidence that you, her people, will be the workforce by which it is sustained.
We must research and create conditions that will make us more attractive to investors and not hesitate to look in every direction for guidance. We must recognize the dangers of insular thinking. We must honestly ask, why not rural Oregon?
Douglas Rohde, 30, is a Century Farm son and a 2000 Echo High School graduate with an ambition for public life.