How do we keep our communities vital?

Managing Editor
Gary DeVon
Managing Editor

I just caught the tail end of the Pathways to Prosperity workshop held at the Pastime Bar & Grill recently. From what I saw it was interesting and seemed to focus, at least in the second half, on how Oroville can attract entrepreneurs to live here – especially that group of young people known as Millennials. You know, the ones that came after the Baby Boomers and Generation X, if we’re to put a label on it. The twenty to thirty somethings.

It seems most of those in attendance were of Baby Boomer or Gen Xer vintage – while they do own most of the businesses here, the idea was that we need to have more of the next generation to keep the town fresh and vital. The workshop was put on by Washington State University and was attended, via video, by many different communities in rural Eastern Washington.

“The focus was on revitalizing our communities through entrepreneurship. They stressed that small business makes up a huge part of this country’s economy and is especially important in rural communities,” said Chris Branch, Oroville’s director of community development.

“Boomers are active people engaged in planning to work to revitalize our community… but we notice that the younger people are not there and they are potentially the entrepreneurs who will start new businesses,” said Branch, who helped facilitate the conference.

Branch adds that it comes down to making downtown Oroville an attractive place to start a business.

“There were questions like ‘why come here?’ How do we show the community in a positive light – it’s a big challenge. There were suggestions like having the Chamber start a fund for new business and education,” he said.

Among those “big challenges” was the fact that in Oroville the economy can be very seasonal. Another is that there are several empty buildings, but few are ready be moved into right away.

After watching the video, the group was asked to identify the community’s entrepreneurs and ask existing people why they located their businesses here. There was also talk about can the community take advantage of things like NAFTA, Foreign Trade Zones and Port Districts.

Branch said new state legislation has passed that allows Port Districts to be smaller and not have to take in the whole county. Something that held north county back in the past.

Several business people also answered questions regarding why they have a business here. Some grew up here and have family here. While others like the rural area and country life Oroville affords them.

Kell Peterson, an economist from Osoyoos and Vicki Eberhart, who is starting a wool mill in Oroville, suggested those gathered need to start looking at North America as their market, rather than just Main Street.

We need more meetings like these – but we also need to see more than just a few of the same faces, mixed with a few new ones. Keeping our community vital is important to all who live here and finding that next generation of entrepreneurs who will take Oroville into the next decades is vital to our community’s survival.