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This item originally appeared in the April 8, 2004 issue of The Tech Talk.

By TILISHA T. ALEXANDER

Staff Writer

"Stay in Louisiana" is what Dr. Gerald Doekson, director of the National Rural Health Works, said at the Rural Economic Development Spring 2004 Conference on April 2.

Doekson, also a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma University in Stillwater, Okla., was the keynote speaker at the conference held in the Student Center, Main Floor.

The conference was a one-day event on programs available to rural communities looking to improve their economies and health care.

Elizabeth Higgins, director of the Center for Rural Development, said each year the center sponsors a conference to provide an opportunity for rural leaders to learn about programs or resources that can be helpful to them in their work.

"This is also an opportunity for interested faculty and staff to meet with rural leaders from around the world to find out ways to build a better economy and for young adults who are new or will be entering the job market," Higgins said.

Higgins said "Planning for Change" was the topic for the 2003 conference.

"This was the first step in any community project. At this year's conference we are focusing on figures and how planning has allowed an increase in economics in the community and what we can do as leaders to make it even better."

Doekson discussed ways to keep recent college graduates in Louisiana.

"In our studies by rural health works, we discovered 4.5 percent of all jobs come from the health care field and education," Doekson said. "What we must do is get our students interested in fields that will create a cycle of good economics, and they will have a desire to stay in that state or city."

Trinese Henderson, a freshman biology major, said if better health care jobs were available, then she would stay.

"Since I am from Louisiana, I would rather move to another state to experience new opportunities," Henderson said. "If more jobs for my major are available when I graduate, then I would definitely stay."

One question of concern Doekson pointed out was what role rural community leader's play.

"There are several answers to this question, but one important factor is a willingness to identify, develop and pursue non-conventional solutions," Doekson said. "Another important factor is to help educate students [and] consumers about the importance of economic development."

Doekson said students who are graduating can help the state's economy, but something must be available for them to want to stay.

"If the leaders offer jobs that will benefit their lifestyle and families, then I am sure they would want to stay," Doekson said. "That is why I am here to make sure rural leaders understand how to keep the students here."


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