How to keep youth from leaving Central Oregon?

La Pine thinks it has step in right direction

La Pine hopes to keep the youth at home

LA PINE, Ore. - Rural areas like our own are having trouble keeping young workers, that's according to a report from WorkSource Oregon.

Cities across the High Desert are scrambling to come up with a solution. And one city thinks it has taken the right step.

That report says the challenge won't end any time soon.

The governor, state lawmakers and city leaders know the dire situation.

One answer: getting youth involved more in civic life.

It's a topic the governor addressed in his State of the State address last month -- high unemployment in areas like Central Oregon.

"We cannot and we will not settle for an unequal or uneven recovery," said Kitzhaber. "In fact, I think recovery is the wrong word, if it is used to describe a state where employment in the Portland metro area returns to pre-recession levels, while much of rural Oregon continues to suffer from the economic and social consequences of double-digit unemployment, outdated infrastructure and an aging workforce."

Now lawmakers like Oregon House Minority Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte are dealing with how to make sure all of Oregon recovers from the economic recession.

"We've got to do more to make sure we are attracting these larger businesses that want to locate in Central Oregon, because it is beautiful and workers are excellent," McLane said.

It's the younger workforce, though, that's leaving rural areas at a faster pace.

To see just how much of impact it is having in our area, I visited La Pine High School, located in a town where more than half of the residents are 55 or older.

"I definitely would like to see more jobs come to Central Oregon and La Pine," said La Pine High student Ashlee Horn.

Horn isn't alone.

"I wish there was more here, because I really like the area," said Devin Johnson.

"We are a new community," said La Pine City Manager Steve Hasson. "We don't have a lot of amenities to attract youth."

Hasson is trying to change that.

He says if you want to keep young workers, you have to start young.

"The question is: Have you done enough in your community to keep them in your community? And if you haven't, then you lose that investment to another community," Hasson said.

The La Pine City Council will have a student sit in and advise the councilors.

"So it's likely he's going to sit here, or he's going to sit here (pointing to where the student is going to sit) but most importantly he is going to sit up here amongst us," Hasson said. "He's going to be part of the leadership. He's going to help direct how this community moves forward."

That student is sophomore Conrad Parker.

"I think it will be useful to have me there, because I'm a student here," Parker said. "I feel like there are not a lot of opportunities and activities for (youth) to do here, and I would like to see more."

"If we get a little more activities here, there would be so many reasons for the youth to come back," Parker added.

Hasson said, "We have a wonderful industrial park -- we are shovel-ready for people to bring their businesses."

"We want to give them the confidence chip that this place is the place for them to develop their business, and we want them to know that they have ample resources in youth in order to fulfill some of these positions," he added.

McLane says getting a four-year university in Central Oregon will help our employment situation.

"(It will) help send a message to companies that they're going to have an educated workforce that's going to be focused and will serve them well," McLane said.

When asked if Horn sees Central Oregon providing jobs for her after college, she says "I think so. I'm not so sure in Bend, but maybe by the time I graduate college there will be more opportunities for me."

So what can the youth in La Pine look forward to after high school?

Hasson told me right now, not very much -- most are basic service jobs or low-paying jobs.

The city is currently trying to reach out and capture some higher-paying, year-round jobs -- something all cities are striving to do.

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