By Pat Caldwell
ONTARIO – One of Oregon’s top lawmakers told the members of a new board of local residents they now have a “hotline” to Salem regarding job creation and economic development.
House Speaker Tina Kotek by video link addressed the first meeting of the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board last week at Treasure Valley Community College. She emphasized the distinctive mission of the new committee and its potential impact.
The board was created by the 2017 Legislature. The board is designed to spark job creation and economic development and is assigned to evaluate gaps in state regulations between Idaho and Oregon.
The board consists of seven members appointed by Gov. Kate Brown.
“This is a very unique board for the state and reflects where you live and the challenges you face,” said Kotek. “I think this is a very unique way to address border challenges.”
Kotek said the board has a clear line of communication to the Legislature. She said she envisions the board isolating specific economic challenges and highlighting them for lawmakers.
“Let us know in Salem how we can be more help in order for you to be economically competitive,” said Kotek, a Democrat who represents north Portland.
Kotek and state Sen. Cliff Bentz, an Ontario attorney, sponsored the legislation that created the new board.
Bentz, who attended the meeting, told the group tough work loomed.
“The hard part will be for you and the community to take this opportunity and figure out how to solve some really difficult problems,” said Bentz.
Bentz also told the group to cast a wide net in terms of potential ideas with economic opportunities.
“Don’t limit them to Malheur County,” said Bentz. Bentz also emphasized that board has a high profile with the Legislature.
“The fact the speaker recognizes this committee sends a strong message that whatever this board comes up with will have strong support,” said Bentz.
Ontario attorney Shawna Peterson, the board chairman, said afterward that she was encouraged by the first meeting.
“I walked away more convinced than even before that we have a tremendous opportunity,” said Peterson.
Peterson said the board would act quickly on economic development and job growth.
“We want to move deliberately but quickly and advance something in the 2019 session,” said Peterson. Dan Cummings, Ontario city community development director, asked the board to consider creating a sub-committee on land use issues. He told the board about the city’s housing incentive plan and its struggle to develop the airport.
Grant Kitamura, general manager at onion processor Baker & Murakami Produce Co., asked the board to consider creating a sub-committee on labor.
Along with Peterson, the board consists of Tiffany Cruickshank, transportation manager at Snake River Produce Company in Nyssa; Bill Johnson, owner of Loft Property Management; Stuart Reitz, of the Oregon State University’s Malheur County Extension Office; local businessman Ralph Poole, Priscilla Hernandez, Eastern Oregon University Ontario Center director, and Dana Young, TreasureValley Community College president.
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