Standing on the outside looking in La Pine appears to be a small town with growing pains and great opportunities surrounded by an abundance of spectacular scenic and recreational spots that give way to its slogan: “The Outdoors at Your Front Door.”
La Pine holds the distinction of being both 100 years old and Oregon’s newest incorporated city, created by a vote of area residents in Deschutes County in late 2006.
From that day forward the citizens of La Pine have struggled to shape their community looking for ways to create a livable urban environment while maintaining its rural atmosphere and pioneer spirit.
Today, La Pine is fast becoming a hub of activity for the renewable energy industry, with interest in solar and geothermal projects, as well as a potential $60 million biomass plant which would provide around 25 full-time jobs, plus spin-off work in trucking and forestry.
The “greening” of the city has already begun with the first gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings east of the Cascades in the Midstate Electric Cooperative headquarters, while the newly-opened flagship affordable senior living complex, the Little Deschutes Lodge also won top LEED status.
Other commercial projects underway or recently completed include expansion of the high school and a new $8.5 million elementary school.
The La Pine Industrial Park – a joint county and non-profit enterprise initiative — has significant potential for economic growth, offering fully-serviced competitively-priced buildable lots. In 2008 the City of La Pine was designated an Enterprise Zone by the State of Oregon, allowing qualified companies to forego paying property taxes for 3 to 5 years. In addition, the city enjoys some of the lowest property tax and electric power rates in the Central Oregon region, as well as a strong available workforce and affordable housing options.
Enterprise Zone benefits, together with the prospects of prime rail and highway access are also boosting efforts by La Pine Industrial Group (LIGI) to attract businesses to the project.
The city’s first 20-year comprehensive plan and an initial urban growth boundary proposal are now on the drawing board and residents, hoping to maintain the feeling of a friendly, frontier town, are weighing their options for growth. Recently consultants presented a draft plan that splits the city into three separate neighborhoods each with a mixed use design of commercial, residential and open space. (A February 25 meeting is set with the Deschutes County Planning Commission who will be asked to endorse the city’s plan. If approved it will be forwarded to the Oregon Department of Land Conservation & Development for final approval.)
If economist Bill Watkins is correct La Pine will be a great target for businesses from California. LIGI General Manager Lee Smith noted that things did slow for a while during the economic downturn, but “recently we have been fielding an increased number of inquiries, including from business owners in California.”
It seems the citizens of La Pine have decided to take the bull by the horns and work collaboratively toward a vibrant, livable community. The La Pine Ford Leadership Team, a team of south Deschutes County citizen leaders recently completed the Huntington Road Lighting Project sponsored by the Ford Institute for Community Building. The leadership team—seeded with a $5,000 challenge contribution from the Ford Foundation when they began their project almost a year and a half ago—raised $52,000 in cash and in kind services from over forty local businesses.
The Ford Institute for Community Building operates within the framework of the certain core values: integrity, stewardship, respect, independence and community. Their goal is to mentor leaders within rural communities.
It’s clearly working for La Pine.
As La Pine Chamber Executive Director Dan Varco said: “La Pine is on the move! We really owe it to all our residents and business owners who are committed to making La Pine a vibrant community in which to live, work and play.“ PHA