HR forum focuses on ‘lackluster’ economy

Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, is supporting job stimulus legislation that will be discussed during a rural economic development forum on Monday.

She believes House Bill 2989 is one way to help Hood River lower its double-digit unemployment rates and offset yet another poor market year for Anjou pears.

The public is welcome to learn more about the bill from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hood River Inn. The Oregon Association of Realtors (OAR) is sponsoring the program at no charge to update citizens about steps being taken to revitalize the economy.

“Realtors are very worried about Oregon’s lackluster economy,” OAR’s Government Affairs Director Jana Jarvis said “A poor economy translates into less tax revenue for local and state governments. This has resulted in cuts to schools, public safety and other public services.”

The OAR introduced HB 2689 which authorizes counties to create “rural development zones” of industrial and commercial lands to encourage job growth. Smith helped get the legislation passed through the House and it is currently in the Senate Water and Land Use Committee for consideration. She believes it is one “piece of the puzzle” necessary to help Oregon overcome its dubious distinction for the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Dallas Fridley, regional economist, said Hood River’s jobless rate in March was 10.5 percent, almost three points above the state average of 7.6 percent and almost double the nation’s 5.8 percent ranking. He said the Gorge county currently ranks 11 highest in unemployment out of 31 labor market areas and lost about 100 jobs during the winter recreation season because of the mild climate.

On the agriculture front, Craig Mallon, field representative from Duckwall-Pooley Fruit Company, said while other pear varieties from the 2002 season, such as Bartlett and Comice, are at least holding the line to meet production costs, Anjou pears are not. He said since Anjous comprise 60-70 percent of the area’s overall fruit production that is not good news for the majority of valley farmers. According to Mallon, Anjou exports were held up this season by labor strikes at the docks and a downturn in many international markets. Added to that challenge was the import of Bartlett pears from the southern Hemisphere that, Mallon said, glutted the domestic market and drove prices down during the peak sales season.

“Even though the growers are doing better in other varieties their mainstay, the Anjou pear, is struggling again this year,” said Mallon.

Smith said the valley’s orchardists and other natural resource industries across the state have endured years of bad times and HB 2689 will help change that grim scenario. She said the bill will create more family wage jobs while retaining all existing protection for farm and forest lands.

“Our community needs economic development and this bill provides an opportunity for local officials to pursue new employment where it is needed most,” Smith said.

She helped to get the bill approved by the House and is currently advocating for its passage through the Senate Water and Land Use Committee. Jarvis said the legislation is also supported by a wide variety of groups, including the Association of Oregon Counties.

“Rural Oregon has been hit especially hard in the last 20 years as natural resource jobs were eliminated by the tens of thousands,” she said. “State regulations have prevented industries from siting in rural areas to replace these jobs. HB 2689 will reverse this unfortunate trend.”

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