Back to Baker City

August 05, 2005 12:00 am

All across rural Eastern Oregon, people are leaving — some by car, others by coffin.

Workforces tend to shrink, and more people die than are born, in Baker, Umatilla, Malheur, Grant — essentially every county east of the Cascades with the notable exception of Deschutes.

Where's the silver lining?

Our population could be declining faster — and the number of people new to the area, or returning after leaving for school and life elsewhere, is encouraging.

It's tempting to say we should focus on getting people to move back here, but it's not that simple.

Housing is relatively inexpensive, as is the cost of living. A new book rates Baker City tops in both categories among a coterie of small Oregon towns.

And contrary to popular belief, there are jobs available — if you have certain skills and are willing to accept the prevailing wage.

That's why many of the new folks moving here are either retired, wired or "downshifting" by moving from costlier, more hectic places like Boise, Bend, Seattle or Portland — and bringing their home equity with them.

Many of the folks moving back fit similar patterns, or have adopted the one true way to make a living, if not a killing, in Baker City: entrepreneurship.

So how can the community or a government support this trend?

It's really a decentralized effort, a matter of former classmates selling each other on the quality of life here versus the quantity of strife elsewhere, or husbands and wives deciding its time to start a new chapter in their life.

That's not to say that some strategic marketing on behalf of Baker County Unlimited or the Economic Development Commission couldn't get results. But results won't come from hope-and-prayer marketing outside Baker City, but from carefully targeted local efforts during Miners Jubilee and other events that bring folks home for reunions and give all of us a chance to sell them on our community.

The same is true of visitors, who come for the Oregon Trail and stay for whatever reason.

There's room for more, and we're sure Baker City's a good fit for plenty of folks who don't even know it yet.