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A summer to turn the economic tide?


   It may have been the Arab Spring, but it's looking like it might be a Madras Summer.
   OK, that's hyperbole at its most hyper, and I probably shouldn't be co-opting a globe-changing movement with some comments about our hometown. But, no doubt, some very positive things are taking place in the Madras area, flickers of economic improvement that will take hold and have long-term, stabilizing impacts.
   Certainly the opening of the Madras Cinema 5 on Friday is an event to celebrate. Madras and Jefferson County made up the largest population center in Oregon not served by a theater. That ends, in a big way, this weekend.
   The positive impacts of the cinema on our community's livability have been mentioned here, and elsewhere, several times. Restaurants and hotels (travelers provided another reason to stay in town) will directly benefit. Other businesses will as well. Too often local residents combined shopping with taking in a movie in Deschutes County. Though retail options remain woefully underrepresented in Madras, substantially less of that combination will be occurring.
   Meanwhile -- and with much less public interest, it seems -- the Central Oregon Community College building is going up across from the middle school. Talk about a livability infusion. The college will be a great benefit to our community's kids, adults and businesses. COCC has long been one of the state's strongest community colleges; the satellite campuses in Madras and Prineville augment that argument.
   Another construction project to start this summer will also help our local economy -- especially that of the Warm Springs Nation. The new tribal casino project will get started shortly, and after a hectic summer/fall construction period, it's expected to be open at the beginning of next year.
   Sure, there are economic negatives to a casino, namely local residents gambling too much. But that's a very small segment of the population, one which would likely find its way to that outcome without a new facility in Warm Springs. How the loss of the casino at Kah-Nee-Ta will impact the resort may be a more important economic question for the tribes and region.
   The tribes view the $12 million new casino as temporary until their Interstate 84 Bridge of Gods casino project is approved. Tribal officials are confident it will be approved someday, but who knows when.
   This "temporary" facility is expected to bring in $25 million or so in business, far more than the $5 million the Kah-Nee-Ta casino has been doing. Makes it worth the, uh, gamble, it seems.
   But, in the near term: the new facility will mean about 200 more jobs over the current casino operation at Kah-Nee-Ta. The tribes hope to fill them predominantly with tribal members. On the unemployment-ravaged reservation, that will be hugely beneficial. Some of those employees, whether tribal or nontribal, will likely live off-reservation, hopefully in the Culver-Madras area.
   With additional employees and more destination travel, the casino will also help our grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, etc. Certainly the casino is for and about the Confederated Tribes. But it's also an opportunity for Madras businesses and entrepreneurs to consider what they can do to incorporate the Highway 26 casino, and the tourism and traffic count it will create, into their marketing and business strategies.