OTEC holds first-of-its-kind business summit at Anthony Lakes

By Joseph Hathaway

Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association Executive Director Ted Case, far right, moderates a panel at the inaugural Power Eastern Oregon Summit to discuss the role of local policy makers in economic development. Photos courtesy of OTEC

Amid the splendor of the majestic Elkhorn Mountains, government officials and business and cooperative leaders from across Eastern Oregon and beyond came together August 29 at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort. The inaugural Power Eastern Oregon Summit was created and hosted by Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative.

The summit was a one-day event of speakers and workshops. Dozens of the most knowledgeable business and economic development minds addressed solutions to critical issues such as housing, broadband, declining population and employment.

The idea behind the event came from OTEC Manager of Government Affairs Tucker Billman.

“We developed Power Eastern Oregon with the goal of bringing community leaders together to help identify common economic struggles we all face in the region, and then showcase some of our best and brightest as they develop solutions to these challenges,” Billman says. “We wanted to connect people to those solutions.”

As guests pulled into the Anthony Lakes Resort parking lot, they were treated to a spectacular sight: an 80-foot-tall hot air balloon made available by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, of which OTEC is a member.

Power Eastern Oregon attendees kick off the summit with speeches from OTEC in front of a hot air balloon provided by Touchstone Energy in the shadow of Gunsight Ridge.

After introductions by OTEC CEO Les Penning and Manager of Member and Strategic Services Lea Hoover, the first main stage speaker was economic development expert Zachary Mannheimer. He discussed his efforts to expand 3D-printed house development to cut back on costs and fill gaps of housing issues in rural areas.

After a catered lunch by Baker City’s D&J Tacos, attendees heard a panel titled “The Role of Policy Makers in Economic Development.” The panel featured Baker County Commissioner Bruce Nichols, Grant County Commissioner Jim Hamsher, Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh and Union County Commissioner Donna Beverage.

State Senators Bill Hansell and Lynn Findlay and State Representative Bobby Levy also participated in the panel, which was moderated by Ted Case, executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“These policymakers are at the front lines when it comes to economic development in Eastern Oregon,” Case says. “What we heard was that one-size-fits-all policies that may work in Portland do not work in rural or frontier Oregon.”

Throughout the afternoon, breakout session panels focused on workforce development in Eastern Oregon, featuring the heads of local universities and community colleges. Other panels included discussions on broadband and electric vehicles, tourism and recreation in Eastern Oregon, rural housing development, and the impact of brewpubs on rural culture and economies.

Keynote speaker Garry Clark from Economic Alliance Snohomish County addresses the crowd.

“We wanted to have a little something for everyone—major employers, community leaders, small businesses, etc.,” Billman says. “We wanted to focus on positive solutions that the entire region can wrap our collective arms around.”

Other main stage speakers included an economist from the Cooperative Finance Corporation, who discussed inflation and other monetary issues our country is facing, and Garry Clark from Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Attendees were treated with dinner from Island City Market’s Urban Vine. Guests shook hands, exchanged contact information and headed down the mountain.

Billman says the event achieved its goal.

“We saw the energetic conversations we were hoping for—the type you have to step in and break up so we could move to the next speaker,” he says. “You can’t put a price on that sort of networking environment.”