By Pat Farr
“How do we get out of the budget hole the County is in?”
Or: “Do you have a plan to fix the mess?”
Or: “Why would you want to be a County Commissioner at a time like this?”
These are the most commonly asked questions from the seeming mass of people who look at me with a combination of puzzlement and pity in their eyes. They don’t expect an answer, it seems. But unlike my (former) opponent, who often says, “I don’t know” when asked questions about how to proceed with policy issues, I have answers. (Rob Handy really [did] say, “I don’t know” when asked policy questions—I have video of him doing so!)
My quick response is always, “First we have to get people working in Lane County.”
Which I follow with the explanation, “Lane, as a county, has among the highest unemployment rates in Oregon, which in turn has among the highest unemployment rates as a state.”
The questioners’ expressions quickly change to consternation. “Well, duh,” they think. Everybody knows that answer because everybody has already heard somebody say it. And nobody’s doing anything about it.
But it is the answer. In order to generate revenue to pay for general government we must have more people with jobs. People with jobs receive paychecks from which they pay their share of taxes and buy their share of food and clothes and entertainment and housing. All of which in turn puts more people to work. It’s a fierce cycle, with fierce being a good thing regarding this cycle. Jobs create prosperity which spreads throughout the community. That is not a secret.
Not unlike the systematic dismantling of the economy that has taken place in this county, creating jobs doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch. Job creation has to be built on a multi-faceted front.
To begin with, I support the efforts by Oregon Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden to open limited portions of our vast Douglas Fir and mixed species Federally-owned forests to sustained harvest. See the Forum Lane post from April 18 2012 headlined, “Handy has the better funding idea (?) I don’t think so. By Pat Farr” This article has links to O & C forest land history and the Walden/DeFazio/Schrader plan.
Next we make sure that land is available and appropriately zoned to allow for expansion of current manufacturing businesses and to attract new manufacturers. We have started this with the Envision Eugene process (see the draft proposal) that will ultimately provide for appropriately sized properties near the county’s urban center where job providers can have choices of where to locate their companies. Site choices are critical when competition arises for locating a new plant, whether the investor is choosing between Boise Idaho and Lane County for a new plant or a local business owner is deciding whether to build close to the existing metropolitan area or push further out into the county.
One other way to foster job growth is to look at another natural resource that we possess in Lane County: prime agricultural land. Here in the lower Willamette Valley, like trees, food grows abundantly. In recent years we have lost our capability to process the vast array of food crops we are capable of growing here. There used to be canneries—I worked for years at Agripac in Junction City canning green beans. There used to be more specialty food processing—I worked for years picking cherries for a maraschino cherry processing plant that no longer operates here.
We have great examples of local small businesses that grew to be large exporters of finished food products that can be replicated. Glory Bee Foods produces the world’s best honey. Grain Millers produces the world’s best cereal products. Springfield Creamery produces the world’s best yoghurt. The list goes on. And it can go on and on and on given the right encouragement and policy attention.
To allow businesses to prosper and grow in our county we will need a nurturing approach that includes incentives we naturally have in place (who wouldn’t want to live here?) and makes certain that policies and procedures for job expansion are in place to make sure that the owners of companies know we actually want them here creating jobs.
It can be done. It should have been done already. Starting now, we can, by working together, bring jobs to Lane County.
Reprinted with permission from Forum Lane
Pat Farr is a Eugene City Councilman and Lane County Commissioner-Elect. He blogs at http://www.forumlane.org/