It’s not Eugene. Like a battle cry, the community members of Junction City proclaim their independence from “big city” development and look to a promising future.
After Junction City’s largest employer Country Coach went out of business in 2009, Junction City was left reeling, the impact was undeniable and unemployment sky-rocketed. “It sent so many ripples through the community,” says Community Services Director Melissa Bowers. Bowers is a long time resident of Junction City, and said the loss of Country Coach affected businesses throughout the city, “It was the rock that sustained our community, and businesses would grow up around that.” Bower volunteered at the local food pantry after the loss of Country Coach, she noticed a significant increase in need by families affected by the mass lay-offs, but, Bower said, the need has dropped as residents are finding jobs outside Junction City.
Big city dreaming in a small town. This is the idea behind Junction City’s resurrection. A new state-run mental hospital is scheduled to open in 2013, a county prison in 2014, revealing possibility for hundreds of new jobs. Lane Community College and state officials have held job fairs at Junction City High School in anticipation. Bower expressed the importance of the new jobs to the community but said “The problem is, the people who attend the fairs want jobs, now.”
City Planning Director Kay Bork is also optimistic about the direction Junction City is headed, “there’s a lot of new growth in the community, and businesses are looking at this,” Bork is new to Junction City, but sees the potential for small town growth, she expects the population to almost double from 5,400 to 10,000 in the next four years “it’s one of the faster growing cities in Lane County, and the community is accommodating this.” Lane County is in talks with the city to build a BioEnergy Facility, capitalizing on Junction City’s agriculture to produce renewable energy and biodiesel from organic waste, grass straw, woody biomatter and municipal waste. “We just adopted a new economic plan,” says Bork, “we want to promote agrotourism and make use of the industrial sites the city has.”
New housing developments are stretching Junction City’s borders, the demand for jobs has people looking outside the city limits and the youth of Junction City are leaving town after school and during the weekends. “Our kids are going to Eugene on the weekends, they just don’t have anything to do here,” says Kathy Furrer, executive director at Junction City’s Habitat for Humanity. Junction City’s identity, however, prides itself on the small town image. “The constant for Junction is, we’re not Eugene, we’re the country to the city, and that holds really tight here,” says Bork.
Junction City hopes to maintain the small-town charm that holds the community together through the most difficult times. Community members like Bowers and Bork recognize the need for community space and places for youth of the city to be after school and during the summer. Bowers recently contacted development company Spohn Ranch with plans to build a skate park near the elementary school. The new prison and hospital promise hundreds of new jobs, and a movement towards green energy may provide even more. A new community center has taken up residence in the old fire house and offers plenty of activities every week, from rock concerts to summer camps. Ultimately, the town is in recovery, but with big ideas and a growing population, the future looks bright in small town Junction City.