Thursday Roundup: Rural Oregon’s Decline?

Oregon economists warn of tough economic times for rural areas • Arkansas reevaluates rural economic development • Rural economic index in positive territory • Critical access hospitals remain in the news • New Census tool for congressional district data

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Rural Oregon is losing population to the Portland metropolitan area, state economists say. And unless something changes, the nonmetro parts of the state could get caught in a spiral of economic decline, according to a story in the Portland Oregonian.

The economists said about 4,000 Oregon residents moved to Portland from other parts of the state from 2007 to 2010. The majority of those transplants came from rural, southern Oregon.

The state economists highlighted the rural problems in their quarterly report to a joint legislative committee on the condition of the state’s economy.

“A lot of rural areas are missing out,” [economist Mark] McMullen said. And that problem could grow if rural residents — especially younger ones — lose faith and move to Portland.

“We’re at this cusp,” McMullen said. Younger rural residents are moving into their “home-buying and root-planting years. If we’re not able to keep them, and they blow off to Portland, these areas could get into a very bad negative cycle.”

A rural legislator said the exodus of young people to the city was a result of bad natural resource policies that limit jobs in industries such as logging.

“They’re leaving because there’s nothing for them to do,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz, a Republican from Ontario on the state’s western border with Idaho.

Rep. Phil Barhart, a Eugene Democrat, agreed. He said the Legislature needs to do more to promote logging and lumber mill jobs.

But timbering is a contentious issue, according to the Oregonian story. “The state’s congressional members have begun a push to allow more timber harvests, and environmental groups have ramped up opposition campaigns,” Esteve reports.

Arkansas Looks beyond Manufacturing for Rural Development. Arkansas is looking at new ways to develop the state’s rural economy, according to a story in the Magnolia Reporter, which serves a small city in the southwest part of the state. Rural Arkansas lost 53,000 manufacturing jobs from 200 to 2010, the story reports. And there’s little likelihood of recruiting other manufacturers to replace those jobs.

Arkansas’ dilemma will be familiar to anyone who has followed rural development for the past generation. Low wages attracted manufacturers to the rural South after World War II. Since the 1990s, manufacturers have found even cheaper labor overseas.

Rural Economic Index in Positive Territory. The Rural Main Street Index, which tracks the rural economy in 10 states, is still in positive territory but isn’t performing as well as it did last month, Beef Magazine reports. The index was at 55.8 this month, down from 57.3 in July. But anything above 50 indicates economic growth.

The index focuses on 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300 located in 10 states: Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The index was created in 2005 by a Creighton University economist and a community bank executive.

More on Rural Critical Access Hospitals. The press is picking up on the looming fight over the status of rural critical access hospitals. The AP’s Chet Brokaw has a story on how changes in CAH designation could affect facilities in South Dakota. That article says as many as 26 of the state’s hospitals could be threatened by changes in the program.

There are two proposals to follow as Congress and the Administration debate the future of critical access hospitals, which are small, rural facilities that receive a little higher Medicare reimbursement because of the economic peculiarities of serving rural communities.

First, President Obama’s proposed 2014 budget suggests eliminating CAH status for hospitals that are less than 10 miles from a similar facility. Second, a separate report from Inspector General’s Office of Health and Human Services says the federal government should reevaluate all such hospitals that are closer than 35 miles to another facility. But the president and HHS haven’t taken any action on the separate Inspector General’s report.

Congressional District Information. Looking for demographic information on your congressional district? The U.S. Census has a new online tool that displays population data based on the American Community Survey. It includes the age of residents, ethnicities and ancestry, disability status, veteran status and other information. 

 

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