Bentz, House speaker propose major economic legislation for Malheur County

Workers process onions at a Malheur County processing plant. A new legislative proposal would give the county a state-backed organization to expand industry and create jobs. (Malheur Enterprise/file)

By Les Zaitz

The Enterprise

Malheur County would get a new state-funded economic development organization to prepare workers and build businesses under legislation introduced Thursday by state Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Portland Democrat.

The proposal was announced in Salem Thursday, encapsulated in House Bill 2012.

The legislation would create the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Region encompassing Ontario, Vale and Nyssa.

A seven-person board would govern the new organization. Its members would be appointed by the governor but be nominated by the Malheur County Court.

The new entity would “promote workforce and economic growth, facilitate development or prevent decline of regionally significant industrial sites and create or maintain jobs,” according to the draft legislation.

The new entity would start up with $10 million in state funds, obtained from the sale of lottery bonds, to lend for business development.

The Economic Development Region also would have the power to recommend waivers of state land-use laws to help with workforce and economic development. Land-use restrictions often are cited in rural Oregon as an impediment to economic projects.

“This bill, if passed, and if funded, would provide a significant economic boost to Malheur County,” said Bentz in a prepared statement.

He said the legislation followed Kotek’s visit last summer to eastern Oregon.

“When I was there, I saw firsthand how businesses and communities in aastern Oregon are struggling to compete with the fast-growing metro area across the border,” Kotek said in a statement. “Each community in Oregon faces unique challenges – from North Portland to Ontario. We are at our best when we find a way to come together and solve them as Oregonians. This bill is a prime example.”

The Enterprise will have more details on this developing story.