A Changing Economy
The economic base of the region has been traditionally based on the timber industry and agriculture and is struggling during recent times to diversify into new markets such as secondary wood products industries, value-added agriculture and tourism. Many rural areas are struggling to survive in much of the country and the situation is not much different in the counties involved in the Paleo Project. Unfortunately, Wheeler and Grant Counties have among the lowest per capita income in Oregon according to the Oregon Economic & Community Development Department. Gilliam and Sherman Counties to the north rank among the poorest in the nation.
The Paleo Project is aimed towards meeting a potential strategic impact on these challenging and alarming statistics. It also warrants providing a glimpse into the economic issues that communities face in Wheeler and Grant Counties and the Lower John Day Partnership region in order to demonstrate the need to pursue strategies that broaden the economic foundation, create new opportunities and encourage reinvestment in the region of the fossil basin and its gateway communities as a whole.
Today the population base for both Wheeler and Grant Counties is approximately half of their historic highs of just a few decades ago. At one time the economies of these counties supported a significantly higher number of commercial businesses that provided services to the region, including a diverse range of employment opportunities. The economic mix of entrepreneurs and proprietary wage earners in these counties, communities and ranches formerly had limited dependency on outside income such as dividends, interest, rent and transfer payments from the government. The exporting of commodities based primarily on wood products and agriculture was a major factor that contributed to a vigorous economy and lively communities.
The example below shows a healthy and dynamic economy represented in the 1969 portion of the following chart. (source: Bureau of Economic Analysis for following charts).