BEND, Ore. -

A new year can bring hope – but not always, and for several years there hasn’t been much of that in Central Oregon’s economy. But solid signs of improvement and a year to be excited about were evident in the remarks at Thursday’s sixth annual Oregon Business Conference at The Riverhouse in Bend.

“I’m sort of the techno-nerd that depresses people, but today it’s a little better than normal,” said Dr. Bill Watkins, associate professor of economics at California Lutheran University and executive director of the CLU Center for Economic Research and Forecasting.

Economic experts say we can actually thank California for much of the recent progress here on the High Desert.

“This economy is so tied to wealth in California,” Watkins said. “And California is having quite a good year, and has had a couple of good years now. And so that’s driving people to move here, to invest here.”

Economist Joel Kotkin, distinguished fellow in urban studies at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., said this may not be a complete breakthrough year for the High Desert, but it’s a start to a steady rise.

However, he said, taxes will continue to hold back growth for businesses.

“Oregon has a lot going for it, but has a lot going against it,” Kotkin said. “It’s a very difficult business climate – very high taxes, particularly income taxes. That’s really hard on entrepreneurial types.”

The housing market also will continue to improve, as more Baby Boomers retire and look for a slower pace of life. But there’s also a new trend on the horizon for Central Oregon.

“Perhaps more important is, young couples about to have kids, saying, ‘We’ll never be able to buy a house in the Bay Area or LA,’ and so this would be an attractive location,” Kotkin said.

So is Central Oregon out of the dark?

“What’s nice about it is, you’re finally being able to look beyond the recession and start looking forward,” Kotkin said.

Experts also talked about how the new OSU-Cascades four-year campus will be a huge contributor to our economy in coming years.