Maybe the local economy isn't so bad after all
It is common during the campaign season leading up to an election for people to latch onto the problems that a community faces and promote candidates that people believe will solve them.
The 2016 election was no different as seemingly every hopeful for offices, from the state to the city level, highlighted the Crook County economy and job creation as a top priority. And it's easy to understand why they said such things. This community has one of the lowest per capita income averages in the state, and the county's unemployment rate is consistently the highest statewide, a fact further exacerbated by the collapse and closure of Woodgrain Millwork. And who could forget when Prineville was pegged the poorest community in Oregon by a study published last year?
Yes, there is certainly room for improvement ?— that will probably never change regardless of how prosperous times become. But here's what people should also stop and realize. Things are actually not going too badly either.
We have recently come across three good examples to prove this viewpoint. First came news, according to an independent study of Oregon counties, that Crook County has the highest net wealth per capita in the state. That's right, the poorest town in Oregon with the lowest income per capita has the highest net wealth.
We should point out that a group of affluent individuals can skew this data in a hurry, so perhaps there are small group of wealthy people making the rest of citizens and their net wealth look good by comparison. But on the other hand, might many other counties have a similar situation?
Secondly, the quarterly report given by Crook County Economic Development Manager Caroline Ervin revealed that the community has 10 pending projects — business recruits or local companies poised for expansion — in various stages of development. Those 10 projects, if they all came to fruition, would result in 510 new jobs and $3.2 billion.
Now Ervin would be the first to point out that the odds of all 10 projects seeing the light of day in Crook County is minimal, and those projects could take anywhere from two to seven years to materialize. But what if just two of them work out? What if one of them is a large employer, the one that is pushing potential job total north of 500?
What people also may not realize is that the number of pending projects is actually not out of the ordinary. Ervin characterized the current economic development snapshot as normal, or slightly better than normal.
Lastly, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment numbers just came in for the month of December and Crook County saw a 0.5 percent dip in unemployment from one month to the next. A community that was once facing unemployment rates around 20 percent now enjoys a rate of 6.5 percent.
Sure, these numbers could also be viewed with a skeptical eye as well. Unemployment rate doesn't account for those who no longer receive unemployment benefits, nor does it include those who quit looking for work. Then there is the underemployed, those who work part-time and while employed, struggle to make ends meet.
When you look at these developments, the economic picture in Crook County looks less grim. However, this didn't happen without hard work and consistent diligence. The city and county have made continual efforts to rein in spending and grow services slowly. They have focused on business friendliness and make a very public and pointed effort to make the community more appealing to outside businesses and families.
This must continue and at the same time, local officials and citizens need to continually lean on state government leaders and encourage them to make Oregon business friendly as well. Otherwise, good economic news may not continue in Crook County.