Destination worth exploring

Jackson County residents want new industry in Southern Oregon.

Not something environmentally harmful, however. We don't want the pollution.

Not something that pays a minimum wage. We need family-wage jobs.

Not something that causes a lot of traffic to converge on a small space. We're enduring enough road construction already.

No, what we want in new industry is something that no industry can give: all the gain (that's tax money and great jobs) for none of the pain (pollution, low wages and traffic).

Into this comes a designation by Jackson County commissioners of a plan that would allow destination resorts to grow here.

Oregon has eight such resorts already — the closest at the Running Y Ranch near Klamath Falls, perhaps the most well-known at Sunriver, near Bend.

Two newcomers say they'd like to settle in this county, one just north of Central Point, the other east of Gold Hill by the Table Rocks.

The mere mention of the idea has launched a predictable outcry from some circles.

We don't know that every parcel of land in the new plan (see is a good place for a resort. We wouldn't want county commissioners to leap into a deal with resort operators, particularly near the river, without probing their answers to questions about the environment and water use.

But we think the basic idea — that destination resorts could be a plus for us instead of a minus — is right on.

Such resorts aren't pollution free, but they are much cleaner than the sawmills that once dotted the valley and clogged our air.

Most of their workers don't get rich, by they do better than the minimum many service workers here earn: Oregon's destination resort industry paid an average of $26,132 per employee in 2005, according to a report this year by the Oregon Employment Department, or a respectable $12.50 hourly.

And while they undeniably increase traffic, resorts generally don't cause the kinds of traffic jams that require major roadwork, especially if they're near a freeway.

A successful resort could pump new buoyancy into Jackson County's sinking tax base. Eagle Crest Resort near Redmond brings in $4.1 million annually in taxes; Sunriver, a whopping $14.2 million, roughly twice the size of the annual budget for the libraries we can no longer afford to run.

Some of the criticism we've heard of resorts is that residents here would rather see land left undeveloped — or, if it must be developed, they'd rather see it turned into a public natural area.

That would be nice if it was realistic. But that's another expense, not industry. It's the right approach for some areas, to be certain, but not an approach for every pocket of the county.

The reality commissioners face is that they must attract industry to create jobs for people who live here and to put the county on better financial footing.

Destination resorts, a reasonably clean industry that capitalizes on the beauty we all enjoy, could be part of the solution for Jackson County. We should explore the possibilities here, not work to kill them before they've been fully heard.

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