Economic Development Opportunities in Wheeler County, Oregon

Like many rural counties in the West, Wheeler County faces economic difficulties. It also has untapped resources and opportunities, which suggest the possibility of a brighter economic future.

  • Wheeler County possesses the tools for a brighter economic future: a local population dedicated to community, attractive public lands, and active local entrepreneurship.
  • The first focus should be on existing businesses to increase opportunities through infrastructure improvements to better access markets or by capturing spending from new visitors.
  • Various approaches can help the county capitalize on its public lands, including new attractions; promoting tourism; translating visitation to residency; appealing to people who can work remotely; and reaching out to retirees.

scenic vista of Wheeler County, Oregon
Like many rural counties across the West, Wheeler County in central Oregon has struggled economically in recent decades. It is by no means alone in doing so.

Rural counties are grappling with the aftermath of long-term declines in traditional industries, such as forestry and wood products manufacturing, and wrestling with how to compete in growing aspects of the regional and national economy, including a range of services industries.

Although Wheeler County continues to face economic hurdles, it also possesses resources that suggest the possibility of a brighter economic future. These resources include: a local population that cares deeply about place and community, attractive public lands that appeal to a wide range of Americans, and active local entrepreneurship.

To better understand the potential economic future of Wheeler County, this report reviews the best available data on local demographic and economic trends, and discusses the challenges facing rural and remote public lands economies and strategies to build economic strength in this context.

The report concludes with a short discussion on possible approaches to development that could help with economic renewal in Wheeler County.