Union County is more diversified than many rural communities — with people employed in timber, agriculture, education, government, and manufacturing — but it’s still feeling the pain of the recession. Boise Cascade just announced that it will close its La Grande mill in about two months, resulting in 120 layoffs (about 225 people in Union County lost their jobs when Boise Cascade made cut backs earlier this year). And Dixie Lund, the president of Eastern Oregon University, says the Boise Cascade closure has sent a “ripple of fear through the community.” With an unemployment rate already over 14 percent, how does a rural community like La Grande face the challenge of a global economic crisis? How will this recession change Union County?
One of the things that makes La Grande unique in Eastern Oregon is the presence of Eastern Oregon University. It is the third largest employer in the area and the door to a future for many young people. Like agencies and schools around the state, they’re now bracing for a budget shortfall. At this point the president is planning for a 18 to 23 percent budget cut; she’s worried it might be more.
Meanwhile, County Commissioner Nellie Hibbert says she sees the economic slowdown in her daily activities. A restaurant she loves used to be packed, but the last few times she basically had the place to herself.
Other news reminds us that even if the economy has slowed in La Grande, it isn’t at a standstill: Bealls, a national clothing chain, just opened a new store in the town shopping center. Grand opening celebrations and fragrance give-a-ways might not sound like much, but they are a reminder that some opportunities remain, even in difficult times.
Do you live in rural Oregon? How is the economy affecting you, your friends, and your neighbors? If you have lost your job in a small town, will you move or stay? What do you hope will be the same about your community when the recession is over? What changes would you welcome?
Please note: This show will be recorded in front of a studio audience at 7 pm on Monday May 11th at Eastern Oregon University’s Zabel Hall. Seating is first-come, first-seated and doors open at 6 pm. The show will air on OPB the following morning at 9 am. If you live in the La Grande area please join us for the taping, otherwise post your comments now to get the conversation started online!