BEND, Ore. -

Hit hard when the housing bubble burst, Central Oregon is looking to bounce back and become more stable economically, with the help of a new element -- a full-fledged university.

With plans in the works to expand OSU-Cascades to a four-year university, some of that stability could soon become a reality.

"Universities tend to be counter-cyclical -- when the economy is down, people go back to school," said Becky Johnson, Vice President of OSU-Cascades, "The university is growing at the same time the private industry is shrinking, and it's a stabilizing influence for the communities."

Last month the school announced plans to expand.

"The idea is to have an urban campus -- not urban like downtown Portland, but urban Bend," said Johnson, "At the same time, we are right on the (Deschutes) River here, we are near the Old Mill -- it would be very attractive to students."

On Thursday night, many community and business leaders met at the Tower Theatre to hear what the future of Bend may hold, at the "Accelerate Bend" event, put on to help advance the ideas sketched out years ago in the Bend 2030 plan.

A theme throughout every presentation was that Bend is ready for a university.

"Bickering over issues, over you know, land use, infrastructure, economic development -- we need some consensus," said Bend City Manager Eric King, "This is our consensus: I think a four-year university is what this town deserves, and we should all get behind it."

OSU-Cascades officials say they plan to add programs designed to help Central Oregon businesses train and prepare potential employees.

One of the first programs will be a new computer science degree.

"In Bend, there are a lot of software companies that are growing, and they have a need for a workforce that is skilled in software engineering and software design." Johnson said.

To make all of this possible, Oregon State is asking businesses to come forward and help pay for parts of the expansion.

BendBroadband already has donated $25,000 and has pledged another $5,000 a year for the next five years.

"We absolutely see the partnership between OSU-Cascades and BendBroadband as a strategic. long-term vision for the growth of the economy of Central Oregon." said spokeswoman Sonja Donohue.

The Bend Chamber of Commerce also just announced a $50,000 commitment, matching smaller businesses' contributions.

On Thursday night, the university and BendBroadband addressed local businesses, saying this is the perfect time to expand.

"Our timing right now is that OSU-Cascades is trying to expand into a four-year university," said Johnson, "It makes us become one of the key projects for the future. They're trying to 'Accelerate Bend,' and accelerate the progress on that vision. And that's the same thing we are trying to do at OSU-Cascades."

With the expansion, OSU-Cascades says they still plan to partner with Central Oregon Community College, saying with every big university, there tends to be a strong community college presence.