Monday, August 22, 2005

Portland is Not Competitive and Doesn't Want To Be

Read this column by a friend of mine, Larry Huss. Larry was formerly the Oregon chief at U.S. West, and since his "retirement" has been active in the Oregon political scene. He writes a weekly column for the Medford Mail Tribune, which I have pasted here.

Larry nails it.


It appears that the Portland business community is having an identity crisis. First Tim Boyle, President of Columbia Sportswear, in a speech to the Portland business community, unleashed a sharp critique of the anti-business attitudes that are pervasive in the Portland/Multnomah County local governments. Boyle knows of what he speaks. He finally moved his business from Portland to Beaverton when local officials thought his corporate building site on the banks of the Willamette River would be a better fit for their county offices than for Boyle's business.

In a criticism of Boyle's speech, Randy Miller, chairman of the Portland Ambassadors program noted, "We're so collegial in Portland. It didn't exemplify the culture." And so what is the culture of the Portland business community? What kind of culture tolerates the loss of 30,000 jobs between 2000 and 2004? And what kind of culture then concludes that the best way to attract new business is to support not one, not two, but three efforts to increase taxes on business in Portland/Multnomah County?

Well, last Sunday's Oregonian contained an inescapable clue. John Barrows, a well-traveled and successful businessman, may have given us the answer. In a guest editorial, Mr. Barrows writes:

"Finally, someone's spit out what no Oregonian will admit: We're an also-ran and we don't much care."

Barrows continued, in explanation:"Oregon is an also-ran when [it] comes to education, business competitiveness and leadership. . .

"But let's be honest with ourselves: The policies and politics of Portland and Oregon are purposefully constructed to reflect the desires of the residents - low energy, uncompetitive and hard work adverse - at least compared to other states and cities that drive the American economy.

"Trust me, Barrows' list of Portland's shortfalls is thorough and accurate. But here is the stunning part - the part which helps define the culture of the Portland business community. Barrows thinks that's okay. He's a very happy camper. His analysis is not meant as a criticism but rather as a request to "don't worry, be happy." Barrows is an admitted "burn-out" from the corporate wars:

"I chose this lifestyle because I was tired of working so hard. I wanted to watch my grandchildren grow up because I missed my children's early years; I was working all the time.

"So let's just admit to ourselves what the rest of the country and the nation's business community already know: We're not competitive. We choose not to be...It's the lifestyle stupid.

"There it is folks - Portland's great solution-quality of life. When I was an active participant in the Portland business community associations, the business leaders eschewed issues like taxes, regulatory burden, and land use restrictions in favor of salmon recovery, bike paths and light rail. I would point to states like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and Idaho that had robust and growing economies and ask, impolitely apparently, how Oregon intended to compete. The standard response from local politicians and business leaders was always - our quality of life. And while I grant you that the quality of life is worth a premium, it is not, contrary to their views, unlimited.

But there are two problems with Mr. Barrows' view of the world. First, while it may be fun to coast through life, it seldom provides you the financial means to build or enjoy the quality of life to which he refers - that is both on the micro and macro levels. It is also much easier for someone who has already achieved financial independence to proffer such foolishness than someone who is trying to find or hold a job to put food on the table.

Second, while Mr. Barrows' reggae attitude might reflect the attitudes of Portland's business community, he is dead wrong that it reflects the attitudes of all of Oregon. According to a July 26 report by the Oregon Employment Department's Oregon Labor Market Information System (OLMSI), Portland remained a drag on Oregon's job recovery. While the state as a whole has recovered the 64,000 jobs lost during the recession, Portland is still 14,000 jobs shy of recovery-and that is after four years.

It appears from the report that Medford, Bend and Salem have shouldered the largest share of job growth accounting for over 25 percent of the total state job growth. And these statistics don't tell the whole story. When OLMSI refers to Portland, it really refers to the seven county metropolitan area, including Clark County (Vancouver) Washington which is experiencing unprecedented growth. Business has been fleeing Portland in droves and relocating to Washington (Beaverton/Tualatin) and Clackamas (Lake Oswego/Milwaukee) counties and Vancouver. The job recovery for Portland/Multnomah County is far less than its surrounding counties.

And so while Portland focuses on its quality of life through more skateboard parks, bike paths and light rail, it appears that the rest of state is focused on building quality of life through a good job.

But don't worry, be happy - it's all about the quality of life.


Anonymous said...

"Hasing Mediocrity"

That's hilarious. A mediocre cut and paste job...

Al said...

Perhaps Potland is a better name for the city or then Mellowville might work. Did I say work? Shame upon me.

Rob Kremer said...

Oooh my apologies please forgive me for missing one letter on my cut and paste!

Lumpy said...

As a longtime Oregonian who married into a family of Oregonians who came on the trail, we are victims of our past. There was a time in the 70's that we used to proudly say, "Welcome to Oregon, now go home." But, those folks didn't go home. They moved up from California or from the liberal NE to find a utopia where they could slack and spread their far left liberal agenda. These folks all say the same thing; I was in a high pressure job in "fill in CA or the NE" and moved here to get away from it all. Well, they all settled in Multnomah, Lane or Benton County. Well, the rest of us, who are trying to work hard to keep the far left liberal agenda from destroying our past and future vision of Oregon, have to put up with these slackers. Well, just remember, it isn't about progressivism, it’s about who has the power. Good luck and all you slackers go home.

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