When Union Mayor Bill Lindsley heard about an economist’s estimation that rural Oregon towns have a 70-80 percent chance of becoming non-existent in the coming decades, he saw it as a call to action. He took a look at his town and saw what once fueled the the economy in past decades — two saw mills, a flour mill, and the railroad — had all gone by the wayside. What used to be a bustling downtown had now shrunk to to one service station, one restaurant and one tavern. Union’s 2,000 or so residents now do most of their shopping in the bigger towns, like La Grande, where most of them are employed, diverting money from their own town.
But Lindsley has ideas about how to rescue the town from drifting into non-existence. He believes in a three-pronged approach, based on stimulating small businesses, enticing tourists, and bolstering vocational training in the local schools. He thinks the old days when a town could rely on one industry are over, and towns like Union must diversify in order to survive.
Do you live in a small town? What helps keep your town economically viable?
- Bill Lindsley: Mayor of Union
- Bruce Sorte: Community Economist at the Eastern Oregon OSU Extension Service