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Spotlight: University of Oregon’s University Center Uses Solar Eclipse to Springboard Planning for Economic Resiliency in the Beaver State

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The August 2017 eclipse is seen in this NASA photo taken in Madras, Oregon.

On August 21, 2017, millions of Americans bore witness to a once-in-a-lifetime event: the first solar eclipse viewable across the entire mainland United States in nearly a century. Oregon, where the eclipse was first seen, realized an unprecedented surge of visitors as hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the Beaver State for days.

In Eugene, the University of Oregon’s University Center took a leading role in evaluating the state’s response to the eclipse and identifying key learnings that will help Oregon plan for the next big event.

The University of Oregon’s Economic Development Administration University Center (EDAUC) links the resources of the University of Oregon with communities across the state to enhance sustainable economic development. It began laying the groundwork for research into the public and private sector response to the eclipse in the spring of 2017 by developing two surveys.

A pre-event survey was administered to economic planners prior to the eclipse, and a post-event survey was deployed the following January. The two surveys were augmented by interviews that provided a qualitative dimension to quantitative data. The process concluded with a series of tabletop exercises enlisting critical stakeholders across the state.

Practices identified by the University of Oregon’s EDAUC on how communities collaborate and communicate as they respond to significant events like the eclipse are leading to the development of tools to support Oregon communities in generating economic opportunity from unusual occurrences.

The university’s research on economic resiliency in response to the eclipse discovered the existence of functional silos that limit the efficacy of government and business during large-scale events.

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The University of Oregon logo.

According to the UO EDAUC assessment, “breaking these silos will ensure continued collaboration and information sharing when preparing for semi-known events such as the annual wildfire season, or unknown events such as the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake.”

Tactical best practices were also unearthed that planners are using to prepare for the next major disruption. In metropolitan Marion County, for instance, local officials reported on the success of boosting the signal strength of a radio station in an area where there is no broadcast or cellular service to provide critical information to visitors; not only did this achieve its immediate objective during the eclipse, it also built social capital that can be translated into future economic benefits.

And, in Prineville, business leaders learned that measuring the economic impact of short-term events like the eclipse must extend beyond the event itself. Planners observed that the eclipse helped build place awareness among people who might otherwise not have visited the area and that many first-time visitors to Prineville ultimately returned to the Central Oregon town in the months that followed the solar event.

EDA’s University Center program enables higher education institutions and consortia of higher education institutions to establish and operate University Centers specifically focused on leveraging university assets to build regional economic ecosystems that support innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship resiliency and inclusiveness.

Learn more at EDA’s University Center webpage.

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