Survey reveals a changing, divided Oregon

More transplants in central and southern parts of state compared to Eastern Oregon

It used to be that the so-called Cascade Curtain snapped shut once you left Portland, and stayed closed, save for pockets of Eugene and Ashland. But a new survey conducted for Oregon Public Broadcasting and other sponsors shows that over the past decade, there's been a measurable shift in opinion that's brought Southern and Central Oregon closer to the metro area and the Willamette Valley.

The exception is the nine counties of Eastern Oregon, which politically and demographically remain a land unto themselves, estranged from much of the rest of the state.

For example, when asked whether Oregon would be a better or worse place to live in 10 years, optimism levels were relatively high in the metro area, the Willamette Valley, Central and Southern Oregon, with between 25 and 29 percent of respondents in those regions saying things were getting better.

In Eastern Oregon? Only 11 percent of respondents were optimistic about the state's future.

The sources of their pessimism are different, too. In Eastern Oregon, 25 percent of those who felt things were headed in the wrong direction cited too much government intervention into their daily lives — a concern that minimally registered in the rest of the state, where residents tended to cite unemployment or high taxes as primary concerns.

"Things have really changed here in the past 10 years," said Dan Barklind, who owns Horizon Village, a green-themed retirement community in Grants Pass. "We're not moving in unison with the big cities, but there is definitely a closer mindset. The population here has become more cosmopolitan, which I really like. It's not like it was 35 years ago."

Part of the difference is demographic. According to the survey, 74 percent of Eastern Oregonians said they'd live in the state for 20 years or more; only 4 percent had lived there for less than five years. Statewide, more than double that number — 10 percent — said they'd arrived in the past five years, while 60 percent were longtime residents.

Ethan Seltzer, who heads the Population Research Center at Portland State University, said an influx of new residents — or lack thereof — can have a significant impact on a region, as "people self-select for the places that they want to be."

None of this means that the people in Southern and Central Oregon are rushing to embrace Portland-style politics or Portlandia-style culture. There's unlikely to be a push for mandated paid maternity leave or light rail anytime soon in any of those communities.

But an influx of new residents and a diversifying economy, born of necessity as one timber mill after another closed its doors for good, have brought unmistakable changes to these regions.

In Roseburg, where there were once one or two hardy pioneers opening wineries, there are now dozens. And the local community college has a well-regarded viticulture curriculum up and running. Meanwhile, the town is debating whether it should change its long-time slogan, "Timber Capital of the Nation," to something more current, like "Land of the Umpqua."

In Medford and surrounding towns in the Rogue Valley and on the coast, the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, highly regarded for its geriatrics and orthopedics programs, has helped anchor a healthy retirement community, fueled by a steady population of Californians heading north.

In coastal Port Orford, fishermen tired of getting low prices for their catch have banded together to form a sustainable seafood company that runs the state's first "community-supported fish" home delivery program. The catch is also delivered to farmers markets and high-end restaurants up and down Interstate 5. Their higher prices, said Mayor Jim Auborn, have forced other fish buyers to pay more for the local catch.

In Bend, a fledgling tech sector is springing up around the established tourism and outdoor recreation sectors, ground is being broken for a new branch of Oregon State University and the best known tech companies in Silicon Valley have spent hundred of millions on server farms in Prineville and The Dalles.

And yet, for all these differences, there are shared values statewide. When asked what they valued about living in Oregon, again and again, no matter their hometowns, respondents picked the sheer beauty of the state, the looming mountains, the quiet of the desert, the push and pull of coastal tides.

"That appreciation of landscape and the quality of life," Seltzer said, "those are core values that are consistent across the state."

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