JOHN DAY - Nine months into his tenure as Grant County economic development coordinator, Eric Walstrom recognized a job opportunity he could not pass up.

Walstrom accepted a position of overseeing marketing and sales for Knight Welding and Fabrication of Eugene.

"They came to me and asked me if I would be interested, and really with the package they had put together ... it was just one of those opportunities that don't come along very often," Walstrom said.

His resignation is effective Dec. 1. On Jan. 2, he is scheduled to start his new job. However, Walstrom said he will be flexible about when he leaves his Grant County position to ease the transition.

Walstrom assumed there would be a transition. The job of economic development coordinator is a new one to Grant County; Walstrom was the first to fill it in March 2001. He hoped the county would maintain the position and hire someone new. He noted that competition to recruit businesses is fierce.

"I really hope, and I expressed this to the County Court, that the county maintain a full-time economic development department for many, many years. It's imperative because of the competition from other counties, really from every other county in the state, that there is an economic development presence," Walstrom said.

"If somebody comes knocking, there's got to be somebody there to open the door. I shouldn't say, if, but when somebody comes knocking," he added.

On Oct. 30, the Grant County Court accepted Walstrom's resignation, but county leaders did not discuss at length any plans for the position.

The economic development department was established by the Grant County Court with funding commitments of $25,000 from the Southeast Regional Alliance; $18,966 from the county; $8,286 from Grant County Resource Enhancement Action Team; and the balance ($6,753) from cities.

Armed with his $59,005 budget, Walstrom worked under the board of directors of GREAT.

Walstrom's efforts included promoting and drawing businesses to the county, particularly to a future industrial park being built near Grant County Regional Airport and to an Internet-based employment site being furnished in east John Day. The Internet-based worksite will be located in the same complex where Walstrom has worked out of a small office - a set of defunct motel units under renovation two blocks east of John Day City Hall.

Walstrom also helped build support for a wintertime recreation marketing plan, an effort being pursued through GREAT to boost seasonal tourism.

Originally from the Eugene and Springfield area, Walstrom said he was employed by a company in Eugene which had machining work done by Knight Welding and Fabrication. That's how he was familiar with the company. Knight specializes in rock-crushing and heavy-construction equipment repairs, machining and modification.

"They're looking to diversify some of their business, so I'll be doing marketing and sales for them," Walstrom said.

Eric will be joined by his wife, Debbie, who works part time for Dave Freeman Certified Public Accountant in John Day.

"Because we love it here in Grant County, we would like to maintain our home here, and maybe 12, 15 years we could come back," Eric speculated.

They discovered Grant County by looking around the state for a place to go into business for themselves. They bought John Day Fuel and Heating Co. and also owned the Auto Shop in John Day. Subsequently, battered by the county's flagging economy, the Walstroms sold the fuel and heating company and closed the auto shop.

Eric recalled the local sawmills dropping from two shifts to one and the loss of customers which accompanied this ongoing downturn in the economy. After serving as president of the Grant County Chamber of Commerce, Eric was hired as economic development coordinator.

Eric said he learned to appreciate the tough job of an economic development coordinator.

This person networks with state agencies, coordinates the challenging effort to recruit business and supports development of infrastructure so businesses will come.

The economic development coordinator position, Eric said, is critical.

"Quite frankly, without one, you'll literally just drop right off the radar screen," he said.

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