Editorial: Local Econmy - Tapestry or quilt, the connecting analogy fits

February 15, 2012

The "tapestry" analogy about the Hood River economy, as ventured by Mark Johnson on page A1, is an appealing and, mostly, appropriate one.

Not to correct Rep. Johnson, but the quilt image might be more to the point. Either way, the fabric idea of a diverse and vibrant economy is a point well taken. A tapestry being a single piece of cloth with a single story or image woven in, a quilt being a multi-piece assemblage of fabric.

Johnson is right that there is much to be optimistic about: Hood River County's unemployment is a percentage point less than the state average (while gas prices are a good seven percent higher. Hmmm.) .

There are frays and gaps in the fabric, sadly; food banks in Hood River valley and in Cascade Locks report greatly increased use. Any discussion of economic successes needs also consider the plight of those who suffer long-term unemployment or under-employment, disability, or other barriers to full and fulfilling employment.

Hood River and the Gorge is a place where those with economic expertise are willing to share what they know; witness the annual Angel Investments that will come around again in April for the fourth year. PubTalk, from the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, returns Feb. 21 at Solstice in Bingen with an "Ask the Experts" panel (details on page A5).

Opportunities to get involved are numerous. One of the best ways to hear directly about economic development activities is to attend any of the local government meetings such as your port commission or city council.

In Cascade Locks, the port and city are steadily elevating their efforts to work together, with establishment of the Joint Economic Development Task Force, the Downtown Revitalization Committee; and new ideas for sharing costs and cooperating in marketing on issues including a pending electrical rate study and marketing of surplus real estate owned by the two jurisdictions.

In Hood River, another upcoming opportunity to learn about economic development, and get involved, will be the Feb. 22 downtown business town hall meeting 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in City Council chambers, 211 Second St. Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Council, this is a chance to hear about chamber activities, ask questions about projects and coming events and learn about a proposed Economic Improvement District for downtown.

Speaking of the Chamber, Friday's Member Appreciation dinner served as a springboard for what should be a successful year for the chamber, led by an energetic board and staff, with President Andrew McElderry and Executive Director Kerry Cobb riding herd. The chamber made some positive changes in its major events of 2011, including Harvest Fest, Hops Fest and Downtown Holidays, and made an effective first foray in branding Hood River as "holiday town of Oregon," a distinction it stands ready to truly cement in 2012.

But the chamber is just one player in the economic developments game. Efforts as such as expanding the Marine Park beach in Cascade Locks and a new grant application for further improvements at Hood River Waterfront Park are reflections of what efforts public and quasi-public groups know they need to take to attract visitors and support and expand local businesses.

Add to that the City of Cascade Locks' support of racing programs and the Port of Cascade Locks' dual efforts to improve bike trails and water sport access. These comprise blocks in a quilt that is Cascade

Locks' nascent resolve to market itself as a destination place for outdoor enthusiasts, among others.

Cascade Locks has its own set of appeals for such tourism, and they complement similar ones in Hood River, increasing the attention deserving of the entire mid-Columbia as a place to recreate and find scenic beauty as well as natural and man-made products and amenities including fresh fruit, fine wine and beer, and high-quality food and lodging - to name just part of why people come to the Gorge.

The beauty of a quilt is you can consider only one or two pieces, or stand back and take them all in. More and more, the Gorge quilt pieces look better and better connected.

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