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Oregon is the only place where you can experience all weather climates. Driving down the gorge, you will see our beautiful mountains, the Columbia River, and the desert. It can be easy to miss small towns that just feel like a stop along the way to an outdoor adventure. I had an opportunity to visit three of these towns and the Umatilla Reservation. Innovation is changing the makeup and cultures of these communities. I was also able to get an insider’s look at the Pendleton UAS Range (Pendleton, OR), AWS Think Big Space (Umatilla Reservation), Blue Mountain Networks (Hermiston, OR), and The Sage Center (Boardman, OR).
A tour of the Pendleton UAS Range led by Darryl Abling, Eric Smidt, and Cole Rixe dispelled some misconceptions I held before the trip. Recent investment into UAVs has brought interest from all over the globe due to smart decisions made by Steve Chrisman. It has revitalized the airport and the city of Pendleton.
Tribal leaders of Umatilla Reservation have worked tirelessly with the AWS Think Big Space to ensure that respect is being paid to local needs and culture. It paves the way for self-determination in ecological-related research, pathways for future jobs, and passion for STEM/STEAM careers.
Joseph Franell, the President of Blue Mountain Networks, gave me incredible insights into how broadband is changing Eastern Oregon. Where broadband goes, opportunities follow. There is better broadband to homes in some of the most remote areas of Oregon than within Portland, Oregon.
The Sage Center is the home base of Torie Griggs, a powerhouse that wears many hats, key stakeholder, and driver of positive changes in Morrow County. That visit introduced the way AgTech is used differently in this region, how their AWS Think Space was built to cater to their specific needs, and the massive footprint that the Port of Morrow has worldwide.
A common thread they all share are Changemakers dedicated to improving and bringing recognition to this part of Oregon. They are embracing forward-thinking approaches to prepare for jobs and opportunities that are coming to them. Local leaders are holding large organizations accountable for integrating the needs of particular communities instead of displacing them. Beautiful collaborative relationships across stakeholders are emerging as goals become clearer. The world is paying attention to what is happening in Eastern Oregon, and it is time we as a State do the same.
Transportation and communication have always been critical for growth. These smaller cities are committed to having both. The next big piece of infrastructure, broadband, is paving the way for the future in the most unexpected places in Oregon.