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Stops 12 and 13 of tour include visits to La Grande, Elgin, Enterprise, Joseph and Wallowa Lake State Park
Joseph, OR—Governor Tina Kotek and First Lady Aimee Kotek Wilson visited communities in Union and Wallowa counties as part of the One Oregon Listening Tour on Thursday, May 4 and Friday, May 5. They met with a wide range of leaders, community members, and providers in La Grande, Elgin, Enterprise, and Joseph.

“Across Union and Wallowa counties, there is a lot of phenomenal work and collaboration being done to drive community-led solutions in housing, homelessness, early education, behavioral health, and workforce development,” said Governor Kotek. “My job is to make sure the state is a strong partner in that work, bringing resources and capacity and removing barriers.”

On Thursday, the Governor and First Lady visited Eastern Oregon University for a conversation on early literacy, as well as a discussion on how the university is partnering with regional school districts and community organizations to create a pipeline of new educators. The group focused on educator preparation and how the state can reduce impediments to workforce recruitment and retention in rural communities.

Later that day, they participated in a roundtable with affordable housing developers and local stakeholders in La Grande. The conversation took place at Veterans Village Cottage Homes, an affordable housing project with 10 cottages that have rehoused homeless veterans in the community. Participants identified the importance of creating a pipeline of construction education programs to build out the workforce in the region and provide opportunities to rural students.

Next up was a tour of Woodgrain Millwork, a company that recycles excess fiber and makes composite panels for lumber, moldings, doors, and windows. Business Oregon recently awarded Woodgrain Millwork nearly $2 million to add new equipment that will improve their long-term sustainability and reduce greenhouse gasses and contaminated wastewater. The day continued with a shopping tour of local small businesses in downtown La Grande and then wrapped up with a dinner with local elected leaders.

Friday kicked off with a breakfast in Elgin with city leaders, where they discussed everything from infrastructure to behavioral health. The Governor and First Lady then traveled to Enterprise to visit the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness. The center is a behavioral health clinic providing substance use disorder recovery counseling, crisis intervention, school counseling, and other services. The center built its existing facility with state funding. After a tour of the facility, there was a discussion about the provision of behavioral healthcare in a rural community. Providers spoke about their whole person approach to care and the value of public-private partnerships to advance community-driven housing solutions. The group also discussed how to reduce administrative burdens and the workforce challenges frontier counties like Wallowa face.

After a working lunch with local leaders, the afternoon included a conversation about workforce housing at Wallowa Resources with local leaders, planners, and developers. Housing is a major issue in Wallowa County given the significant presence of vacation homes which has created affordability and supply challenges for residents.

“The conversations in Union and Wallowa counties show how critical it is for frontier and rural counties to keep people rooted in their communities. That can only happen if we build more housing,” said Governor Kotek. “We need to get creative, model new ideas, and explore additional public-private partnerships to tackle the statewide housing crisis.”

The Governor and First Lady then drove to Joseph to shop at some small businesses and went to the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center before driving to Wallowa Lake State Park. This June will be the centennial anniversary of the former logging town of Maxville. For more information on this historic Oregon town, click here.

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