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Fly Us to the Moon 

Thanks to an impassioned and impressive effort by the staff of Economic Development of Central Oregon, on June 12, American Airlines is slated to begin air service from Redmond direct to LAX. In under two weeks, the Economic Development of Central Oregon, a public/private partnership devoted to building business in the region, managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure this flight, an important link from Central Oregon to Southern California.

All the money was handed over to American Airlines as a promise from the region that the seats of its planes will be filled with passengers eager to access the beaches and, more importantly, business markets of Southern California. Without the money, it is questionable whether American would have invested in Central Oregon.

In total, EDCO raised $100,000 in cash and in-kind donations from the Bend Chamber of Commerce, as well as most cities and counties in the region. Business travelers and individuals shelled out another stunning $404,000 in the form of prepaid tickets.

On the surface, it seemed an outlandish deal—after all, there is no guarantee the airline must continue offering service out of Redmond even long enough for the prepaid ticket holders to cash in their gift cards.

But in an era of tight budgets and airline industry losses of around $60 billion since 2000, these sorts of guaranteed revenue deals are ways to hold the attention of major airlines and make certain that smaller markets are not forgotten in the upcoming decade. To underscore how tentative air service can be into smaller markets, at the end of March, the FAA shut down more than 100 air traffic towers in places like Salem and Pendleton.

Moreover, to put into context how important smaller cities consider retaining air traffic service, other rural communities also have begun forking out pledges and funding to keep planes coming in and out; Roswell, New Mexico, for example, paid $2.4 million to American Eagle to bring direct service from that desert town to the Dallas hub.

We're lucky in Central Oregon to have organizations like EDCO and the Chamber of Commerce willing to do the hard work of bringing all the stakeholders to the table and pushing such economic development opportunities to the forefront.

Last summer, a similar collaborative fundraising successfully raised $1.5 million in two months for OSU-Cascades campus—an amount exceeding the original goal by more than $500,000. The priority with that campaign also was to prove that this region is committed to economic development. That time, instead of an airline, we were wooing the state, which is likely to contribute $16 million toward the university's four-year campus this legislative session, in no small part because of the business community's efforts. Bend Broadband's foundation alone has given an additional $1 million to the school.

More broadly, what these efforts show is that, as a community, we are prepared to buckle down and, even in tight economic times, spend the upfront money required to generate future opportunities.

And, that final sentiment—that we are spending now for our future—is the critical consideration for creating sustainable economies here: In EDCO's case, we expect the group to carry forward the current enthusiasm and capitalize on this new LAX flight as a recruitment tool to bring new businesses to the area. In OSU-Cascades' case, we expect to see well-laid plans for how the university will responsibly and efficiently build this new beacon of hope for the future of this town. GLASS SLIPPER!


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