This past week heralded a stunning example of the dangers of designing an economic policy dependent upon outside resources. Just three days after Governor Kulongoski inaugurated the new $20M airport terminal and delivered a $624,000 check to build an air traffic control tower, Horizon Air announced they will cut service to Coos County.
One of only two carriers servicing the area and flying only to Portland, Horizon cited growing fuel costs and concerns about future demand in the area in its decision to vacate Southwest Oregon Regional Airport. Horizonâ€™s abrupt and unexpected exit also illustrates the consequences of tying publicly owned infrastructure to privatized essential service. In the end, it is not the needs of the public but the bottom line, the profit margin for company shareholders that dictates our quality of life here on the Southern Oregon coast.
Experts predict $7 per gallon gasoline by 2010 and that fuel costs will exceed food costs in the typical family budget. By that time, if the remaining carrier pulls out of SORA it will not matter because no one will be able to afford a ticket anyway. Of course, according to Gov Kulongoskiâ€™s speech last week, the airport terminal was more about bringing people in than travel or air freight which brings me back to our dependence upon outside resources.
As I have written before, exports create jobs and imports eliminate them. Continued strategy of enticing imports, â€œif we build it, they will comeâ€, whether its foreign liquefied natural gas, container ships loaded with Asian products and produce or jet setting tourists and golfers is not going to promote a sustainable, full employment and independent local economy.
As resource competition increases along with future energy demands transportation, like air and rail, will not be the only essential services cut to rural America including Coos County. Electrical generating authorities are warning that load demands may not be met by 2011 and just as Horizon cut service to small communities while maintaining more profitable urban routes, unregulated investor owned utilities will make similar cost saving decisions in delivering rural power.
To grow an independent economy with full employment we must keep as many of our dollars local as possible. As oil prices rise our spending habits are being altered for us, forcing us to make choices we would never have considered two years ago and rolling blackouts will force our hand as well. Instead of reacting to outside conditions beyond our control we should begin by making proactive decisions on our own terms now.
There are abundant, underutilized renewable resources at our disposal. First and foremost we should buy local food grown and raised by area farmers and ranchers. Encourage grocery stores to stock and offer local produce or buy at the farmersâ€™ markets. Forego ornamental shrubbery and plant fruit and nut trees and encourage gleaning and community harvesting. The fewer miles food has to travel to get to your table the better it is for the local economy.
Wind is a plentiful local resource and community owned wind projects have been proven to be more beneficial to communities than corporately owned projects. Producing energy locally provides more long term jobs and increases the tax base which allows dollars to be reinvested in the area to fund health care, education, transportation and maintain infrastructure, all on our own terms.
Coos County has been operating below production capacity for some time because of insufficient demand for local goods and services in favor of imported goods and services. An almost 8% unemployment rate is a consequence of government investment in imports over infrastructure, unrestrained free trade and local spending habits. Exporting our dollars through the purchase of foreign fuel, electricity, food and even fines for petty traffic violations leaves less money to increase competitive local production and create jobs.
To enact these types of changes requires community involvement and progressive leadership. Attend city council and county commission meetings. Read the budgets, ask questions, assess whether that tax dollar investment will rebuild our economy. Consider running for elective office, we have four Coquille city council positions up for election this November. Get involved because what we also learned from the embarrassing Horizon Air departure is that you cannot leave matters of significant public interest in the hands of just a few.