BOUNCING BACK: Douglas County’s Road to Recovery

ROSEBURG, Ore. — After all the bumps in the road, Roseburg Forest Products’ president stands his ground.

“Roseburg is still the timber capital of the world,” said Allyn Ford. “I think our plants are in good shape. We’ve maintained — we’ve had to cut back and cut back hard — but we haven’t compromised our future.”

The future is what mill owners are focused on — a future that’s finally starting to come into focus.

“We’re talking about a slow and steady increase, which gives us the opportunity to get back on our feet,” Ford said. “It’s not going to be the boom-bust thing we’ve experienced in the past, but it should be a slow and steady increase.”

“We’ve just tried to stay the course and hope for the best and worked hard and kept grinding it out,” said Art Adams, owner of Nordic Veneer. “I think things will be coming together.”

The timber industry’s rebound is creating a domino effect: an improved economy makes it that much more appealing to outsiders as more people are coming to call this part of Oregon home.

“Douglas county is popular with retirees,” said Brian Rooney, a regional economist with Worksource. “We’re seeing some population growth with retirees moving into the area. Some of that’s been military because of the VA hospital.”

That influx then creates a need for more health care workers. The Roseburg Veterans Administration Health Care System already offers mental health clinics, an emergency room and hospice care. But it’s adding a dental clinic, an inpatient unit and a care facility for dementia patients.

That, in turn, will create even more competition for the already crowded nursing program at Umpqua Community College, which graduates about 60 registered nurses a year.

“Nurses tend to be hands-on. Students want to get in there and grasp it and they do it from the patient’s perspective,” said UCC nursing instructor Sandy Hendy. “So if they can see and touch and feel, it becomes more real to them.”

That hands-on learning happens in the program’s simulation lab.

“It’s pretty extensive,” Hendy said. “There are eight hospital beds, we can mimic an ICU, we can mimic an ER. We have all the capabilities to do that kind of stuff.”

It’s an incredible asset with a clear disadvantage.

“The office is right here [on campus]. The classrooms is around the corner,” said Hendy. “The sim lab is five miles away.”

This spring, UCC will try to pass a bond measure to move all the equipment in the sim lab into a new facility on campus.

“It’d be really nice to have those pumps right here and have the students program them as I’m speaking about it in class,” the long-time nursing instructor said.

Hands-on experience on campus is something UCC winemaker wannabes are already enjoying. A few months ago, they moved into the campus’s newest building: the $7 million, state-of-the-art Danny Lang Teaching, Learning and Events Center.

“We do online instruction during the week, then we bring them together on the weekends,” said Southern Oregon Wine Institute director Chris Lake. “So I’ve had students from Bend or Ashland, Eugene as well as the folks here in Douglas County.”

Those students are coming from all over the state to learn the finer points of growing grapes, harvesting them, aging them and marketing them.

“They’ll make good employees,” Lake said, “because we can teach them how the industry works.

Added winemaker Marc Girardet of Girardet Winery: “It’s going to help this area for a long time to come.”

The wine industry and the employees turned out by SOWI are generating jobs by generating interest in the Umpqua Valley.

“We always knew we had great wine here, but the rest of the country and world are starting to learn about our wineries,” said Debbie Fromdahl, the president of the Roseburg Chamber of Commerce.

“What the wine industry does is it attracts tourists, which creates demands for things like hotels and restaurants,” said economist Rooney. “So we’re seeing some growth in the leisure and hospitality industry.”

For an area that — 20 years ago — was completely dependent on the timber industry, Douglas County has evolved. It might still be the “Timber Capital of the World,” but a new wine crop and a crop of eager-to-learn students will help it diversify and bounce back.

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