From roads to wires to water
Infrastructure offers building blocks to rural prosperity
The economic prosperity of a community depends heavily on a strong infrastructure including roads, utilities, waterways, healthcare facilities and airports. Without these essential components, communities cannot prosper. Here’s a look at three rural areas leveraging their infrastructure to promote economic development.
Biking rural roads
In rural areas of Oregon, roads are more than a way for local motorists to get from Point A to Point B. Some of Oregon’s largest, most sparsely populated counties are proving an irresistible draw for travelers on two wheels.
“Cyclists and motorcyclists from all over the world like coming here,” says Yolanda Lennon, tourism promotions director for Travel Pendleton. “They say our roads aren’t busy, and they are in very good shape.”
bicycle tourism is a strong component of the recreation industry
The surge in bicycle tourism has meant a corresponding surge in events, such as the annual Cycle Oregon, which this year included a two-day stop in Pendleton. It also has supported a new sideline for Joseph Hardware—a repair shop that employs two full-time bicycle mechanics.
For its class project, members of the Ford Institute Leadership Program spring 2009 class in Wallowa County installed 73 bicycle racks throughout the county.
Today, bicycle tourism is a strong component of the outdoor recreation industry in all parts of rural Oregon. Wallowa County, for example, served as the pilot for Oregon Rural Tourism Studio, a four-month training program for rural leaders interested in sustainable tourism development. “In Wallowa County, bicycle tourism was identified as a niche product,” says Kristin Dahl, Travel Oregon’s tourism development and sustainability manager.
Telecom takes hold
When the city of Ashland rolled out a fiber-optic network way back in 1988, its high-speed Internet connection was among the fastest in the country.
“Ashland is predominately tourism- and education-based,” said then-city administrator Mike Freeman. “The Ashland Fiber Network will help us diversify and bring in high-tech, smaller companies.”
The strategy worked, as high-tech companies flocked to the area. Jackson County alone recorded a 500-percent increase in computer-related firms in the late 1980s.
While the fever pitch of Internet-related business growth has abated, telecommunications is still an essential component of a healthy infrastructure.
Broadband capabilities allow people to work from rural areas as if they were located in large cities. Businesses are able to flourish from remote corners of the state via electronic storefronts. And companies that need high-speed Internet connections to operate are no longer limited to locating in urban areas.
Working with water
When the Ford Institute Leadership Program fall 2008 class in north Curry County chose its project, members recognized the importance of the coastal waterways.
“We have an active near-shore fishery for things like salmon, tuna and crab,” says class member Harry Hoogesteger. “We wanted to make the point that all of our water, clean or otherwise, ends up in the near-shore ocean, and we eat things from the sea.”
Class members chose to construct three bioswales, or constructed landscape features that remove silt and pollution from runoff water.
The swale, basically a shallow drainage ditch, is planted with select vegetation to help filter the slowly moving water before it is absorbed into the sand and, eventually, the ocean. Class members spent a year planning and constructing the bioswales. Besides helping build healthy waterways, the bioswales’ very public presence helps inform the public that the community cares about its environment.