A two day long series of conferences and panel discussions produced probably more smoke than fire this week in Lincoln City but certainly they lighted the way toward solutions to the Oregon’s Coast’s biggest challenges.
Fishing and Wave Energy
What appeared to be developing as far as a conflicting set of ocean uses was wave energy and commercial/recreation fishing. Lincoln County Commissioner, and commercial fisherman Terry Thompson drew first blood when he strongly urged that thorough testing of experimental wave energy devices come first and then lay out where they should be placed in the ocean. He claimed that the cart has been put before the horse on this issue. Thompson reminded attendees that wave energy engineering and protype generators are still very much in their infancy, yet the entire Oregon Coast has already been mapped out to accommodate them causing perhaps big financial impacts to the one billion dollar a year fishing industry. Thompson also challenged the wave energy industry to reveal the true price of wave energy power to end users as well as the number of jobs it will produce compared to the number of jobs that exist today on the Oregon Coast attributable to fishing.
Oregon Dungeness Crab Executive Director Hugh Link also urged a go slow approach to wave energy – that it must prove itself before it should be allowed to displace or otherwise financially affect commercial and recreational fishing. He also pointed out that it still remains very much unclear what benefits wave energy will have on the Oregon Coast economy. He and others say they suspect the benefits will be far less in comparison to maintaining a healthy fishing industry since wave energy jobs will center around simple routine maintenance of the devices and merely hooking up power lines from the devices to the shoreline grid.
Oregon Wave Energy Trust Executive Director Jason Busch contended that wave energy will be a major resource player along the coast and that wave energy and fishing can and will profitably co-exist as the many major issues shake out over the next five years. Busch said he doesn’t expect any major placement of devices on the ocean surface or on the ocean floor much before that.
Many discussions centered around the drop off in timber harvests over the past 25 years, which has put severe strains on local coastal economies – especially in Curry, Douglas and Josephine Counties. Top timber and state forestry officials both agreed that sustainable forestry is the wave of the future but that the only way to get there is by applying more research into how trees grow, healthy forest habitat preservation as well as local river and stream environments capable of supporting a healthy fishery for recreationalists as well as commercial fishermen. Later in the summit, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden echoed those sentiments by stating emphatically that the U.S. Senate will not allow bad forestry to re-emerge due to a temporary economic crisis in southwestern Oregon. He said a sustainable forest creates a better long-term economy without the big up-and-down crises that have been typical in the past. He said being more selective where we harvest timber and how we harvest timber is the way forward.
A panel on tourism and how to bring more of it to the coast produced many predictable recommendations from panelists like tourist industry workers must be pleasant, helpful and know their local attractions, communities should create special promotions and smart advertising, hold unique events that celebrate local culture and history of the coast. But it was Todd Davidson, Executive Director of Travel Oregon that launched an interestingly heretical suggestion that the timing of Oregon’s regional and national advertising campaigns should be fired up earlier in the season. He said visitors to Oregon, regardless of where they see the ads and promotions, start planning their summer excursions during the winter/spring transition – not the spring/summer transition. Davidson said it’s during the actual planning of their trips that visitors need to see those advertisements and to be motivated to make their trips to the Oregon Coast as opposed to someplace else.
Panelists said that being a natural resource and tourist based economy is tough. When the fishing is good it’s good – when it’s not it hurts. Same for tourism. Panelists acknowledged that with the decline of timber as a big jobs creator it’s time to explore more value-added activities. While increasing log shipments to growing markets in Asia will help the coast economy, coastal communities should develop ways to ship finished wood products, including furniture and other end-user commodities. Sustainable, research based forestry is where everything is going and the coast should gear up for it. The coast should also encourage other value-added processing to natural resources like Tillamook County did with milk – Tillamook Cheese. Bandon recently added a very large creamery which has provided a large number of good paying jobs. And of course with NOAA recently relocating their Pacific Fleet of ships to their new headquarters in Newport, it offers more scientific based employment growth. The president of Oregon State University reminded everyone they’re contemplating a greatly enhanced relationship with Oregon Coast Community College (OCCC) as a feeder institution to OSU. He said OSU is expected to build a branch campus in Newport and dovetail undergraduate science courses with OSU’s curriculum. It’ll be a ten year process, they say.
State Representative David Gomberg of Lincoln City said that job development and good sources of financing also hinges on sufficient small business financing, which is very hard to get in the midst of the worst recession in 80 years. Since the major banks, and even some of the smaller local banks, aren’t risking much money in a struggling economy, panelists recommended those interested in starting their own business, or wanting to grow one, should investigate opportunities with the Small Business Development Center based at OCCC. The Center offers financing scenarios, business set up and operations templates, and recommendations on employee recruitment and management.
Regional Economic Solutions – How to make them happen
Senator Betsy Johnson from northwest Oregon outlined her approach to meeting economic and other challenges. Her magical term is “Regional Cooperation.” She said that with limited financial and human resources, it’s often smarter to regionalize those resources, by reaching out to your neighbors, that makes it possible to get something done. She chronicled the massive enlistment of regional political, governmental and other agency and private sector resources to help stop periodic flooding in Tillamook. She said there is an entire science on how to gather people around a common purpose and help them stay on target until the impossible is not only done, but done well. She says only when people get together in a room and admit to the REAL problem do they have a chance to solve it. Only by staying on task and avoiding sideshows and political bickering can a community move forward into a better future.