CANYON CITY - Community leaders will gather next month for a Grant County Economic Summit to dissect the local economy and brainstorm ways to overcome the serious challenges facing it.
Speakers representing a cross section of local businesses and governments have agreed to give brief presentations at the summit, which will be held from 8 a.m. to noon Thursday, Oct. 16, in the Canyon City Community Hall. The talks will be followed by a strategy session for participants to share ideas and prepare for the future.
"This is not just a matter of millworkers being out of jobs, or ranchers facing high hay prices. This is about maintaining the core features needed in any community to make it thrive," said Les Zaitz, a journalist and Middle Fork rancher who is spearheading the summit. "Various groups and individuals have a role in economic development. One goal is to focus resources where there is the best chance of boosting our economy."
He said to expect a fast-paced event - no droning speakers, just plenty of information from a range of sources.
Organizations including the Grant County Court, Grant County Chamber of Commerce and Grant County Farm Bureau joined in to invite an array of civic leaders to the summit, and the public is welcome to attend. There is no admission charge.
The session grew out of an informal breakfast meeting on June 17. Community representatives came away from that session eager to refocus the area's economic development efforts.
It was a diverse group, Zaitz said, but one that shared a concern about sustaining the quality of life in Grant County. While realistic about the challenges facing the region, the participants were optimistic that some opportunities could be developed, he said.
The discussion narrowed in on several themes, including finding new ways to utilize wood from the forests, improving the marketing of the county's tourism and recreational assets, expanding value-added agriculture, and continued investment in institutions such as the hospital, schools and the airport.
They also saw a need to improve communication among organizations in the county and help them "pull together" to find solutions.
Holding an economic summit was viewed as a next logical step.
Topics of the Oct. 16 summit will include demographic updates, business development resources, and prospects for the future of timber, ranching, tourism and other businesses.
The summit will kick off with an examination of Grant County's economic trends, looking specifically at timber, livestock, farming and tourism. Listed as speakers are John Shelk, managing director of Ochoco Lumber Co.; Gary Delaney, OSU Extension agent; Lorraine Vogt, Natural Resource Conservation Service; and Sharon Mogg, Chamber of Commerce director.
That will be followed by information about existing economic development "machinery," with presentations by Sally Bartlett, the county economic development coordinator, and community groups that have roles in building the economy.
Participants then will turn to opportunities. Scheduled speakers include Rick Minster, business development officer for the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department; Mike Slinkard, owner of Winner's Choice; Jack Southworth, Grant County Farm Bureau president; Stephanie Walters, Grant County Fair manager; Tim Lillebo, Oregon Wild, and Rick Wagner, Oregon Department of Forestry.
Bartlett said she expects it to be an interesting event that could generate some new ideas and get people talking. It also could give people a greater awareness of how economic development works.
"It's all pieces of a whole, that we hope will fit together for the benefit of the community," she said.
The summit format will allow people to express their views, and hopefully find some common goals and themes, she said.
Zaitz said he sought speakers with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, but all with a commitment to restoring the vitality of Grant County's economy.
The idea, however, is not just to have speakers talk at a crowd, but to provide information that will help participants take positive action. Zaitz said he hopes to see county residents energized by real possibilities for reversing the county's economic decline.