It’s Still The Economy, Stupid

by | Oct 12, 2011

“Portland is where young people go to retire.” That’s the rap laid down by Portlandia, a funny send up of life in Oregon’s biggest city. However, the issue of few jobs and low wages is not very funny for the Oregon citizens searching for their first job or in the midst of a non-elective “career change.”

Oregon Transformation wants to put pressure on politicians in Salem to fix the state budget crisis and make the state a friendlier place for business. “With new ideas and new leaders we can rebuild a robust private sector, which is essential to maintain Oregon’s quality of life,” argues the group.

In related Oregon economic news, Willamette Week’s cover story about East Portland this week is a rough read.

It’s an expanse of the city without a single Zipcar spot or independent microbrewery, where you’ll see more pajama bottoms than skinny jeans. It’s a landscape of chain link and surface parking that, by contrast, makes 82nd Avenue look positively gentrified. It’s a cookie-cutter residential sprawl so devoid of landmarks, public spaces and commercial centers that some residents simply call it “The Numbers.”

I don’t know who is responsible, or what combination of forces are responsible for Oregon’s weakened economy. It’s a topic I’ve taken up in this space before, and my guess is it will keep coming up until a new dawn rises over the volcanoes. Not knowing is troubling to me because it’s important to trace trouble to its source, so we know how to fix what’s wrong and how to avoid making the same mistakes again in the future. Yet, we can’t as a state lose much time pouring through the record books, because what Oregonians need most is a solution, a.k.a. the kind of jobs that support a family. In other words, we need an honest assessment of what went wrong and an instant and effective response to the problem.

Imagine that a friend from school wants to relocate his non-polluting company to the Pacific Northwest, and calls you for your trusted insight and advise. Can you honestly say that Oregon is a better place for business than Washington state? Or California, for that matter? Oregon has to compete, on the gridiron as in the C suite. Anything less than that is simply unacceptable, and it’s not just “quality of life” that hangs in the balance, but life itself. Oregon can provide the education and social services required of a great state, but the state needs increased revenue from lots of healthy companies to make it work.

Personally, I moved here in 1994 and left in 1995 after finding nothing more than temp work. I returned 13 years later with more skills and experiences under my belt, ready to propel my own engine forward. But success isn’t something a person achieves on their own. For me to be successful here, I am dependent on others being successful here. So, my concerns are both selfish and selfless. The better shape Oregon is in, the more I and every Oregonian can achieve.