FORT COLUMBIA - Most Peninsula residents would agree that on an average weekday, Fort Columbia is pretty quiet. But last week, the attraction was occupied with more than 80 representatives from Wahkiakum, Pacific and Clatsop counties who came together to attend several Gateway Community workshops and exercises with hopes of reaching each of their community's needs.

Inside one of the park buildings, colorful county maps and large sheets of white paper were hung to display outcomes from each groups' exercises - lists of common visions, goals, issues and concerns, as well as sheets dedicated to "Things We Love About the Columbia-Pacific Region."

Thursday afternoon, the groups sat in on a workshop titled "Understanding the Economy of the Columbia-Pacific Economy" lead by Portland State University Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices Associate Director Jennifer Allen, Ph.D. While the workshop started at broadly covering the career, energy, economy and agricultural trends of the general western states, Allen applied certain trends and ways of connectivity to towns in the Columbia-Pacific region.

"Internet connections, cell phone reception - connectivity can happen at all different scales," explained Allen, who also explained that the more connected a community is, the more connections the area can make with larger markets.

Workshop participants were then asked to think about current efforts toward connectivity in their communities, as well as what could be done to make connectivity better, such as bringing in new modes of connection without compromising each areas unique character - one of which being public lands, such as our beneficial state parks.

According to Allen, the West is made up of densely populated urban areas and large spans of open land, both of which make a small town with larger market access a happy medium for most people. But she also stressed the fact that while Clatsop County is an employment hub, Wahkiakum and Pacific counties have been categorized as bedroom communities - areas where residents live and sleep, but commute out for work.

More professional jobsWhen it came to jobs, attendees learned that service and professional careers are on the rise in Clatsop County. In Wahkiakum County, farming, agricultural, service and professional jobs are slowly increasing, and Pacific County is also seeing service and professional careers increasing in availability.

Though both Clatsop and Wahkiakum counties have a decreasing net farm income as of 2004 data, Pacific county's 2004 net income roseto more that $20 million. One commonality that the three counties share is the fact that each of them matches or surpasses the national percentage of adults of 25 years of age who have a college degree, which is median of 14.5 percent.

Allen also stressed the importance of supporting means of education in the area to make connections with communities and their residents elsewhere. Though one workshop participant stated that he felt education had the potential of being wasteful because when students graduate they tend to leave the area for their job search.

"Not investing in education won't help your education's economy," Allen reminded workshop attendees.

Allen ended her presentation by giving workshop participants time to brainstorm and identify challenges and opportunities. The groups then presented their findings and explained who would have to be involved to make the needed changes.

Other workshops offered during the three-day event included an introduction to the concept of Gateway Communities, the concept of National Heritage Areas, a regional overview of the Columbia-Pacific Region, how to protect community character, creating community visions, building and sustaining effective partnerships and tourism, and measuring growth and developmental impacts.

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