Oregon Is A Coin With Two Sides

by | Aug 17, 2009

The Oregon Trail is still an open road some 150 years after the first wave of white migration. I’m here from Omaha. Darby’s here from Cleveland. Our friend Chief is here from Minneapolis. And so on…

But what’s at the end of the trail today? Open-minded and friendly people. A unique craft beer industry and thriving winery scene. Locally-grown slow food. Bike lanes. Off-leash dog parks. Volcanoes, wild salmon, big trees and lots of beautiful flowers. But no coin, however shiny, is one-sided. Oregon is also home to a frightening economy.

Look at this graph from the Portland Tribune:

One-in-four Oregonians are under-employed and one-in-six is on food stamps. Talk about an ugly underbelly. When it comes to employment, it doesn’t get any uglier than the Beaver State (which is odd given that beavers are builders).

I’ve been on a hunt for an answer (any answer) to Oregon’s economic woes, because I don’t think it should be a mystery; rather it must be an obvious problem that all Oregonians–new and native–work to solve.

I’ve had the good fortune to speak with two ad agency principals in the past few weeks about the problem and one of the things I’m learning is a mix of economic forces like banking industry consolidation and the lumber industry’s new focus on its Southern U.S. operations (where it can grow more trees faster) have dealt a particularly harsh blow, as firms that were headquartered in Portland now have little or no presence in the city.

In the meantime creative class hipsters and laborers alike are pounding the pavement, with little hope of finding work. One has to wonder where the answers will come from. Portland Mayor Sam Adams wants the City of Roses to become the City of Sustainability and he sees massive job creation as a result of that pursuit. He might be right, but I think more radical solutions may need to be implemented and soon. For instance, legalizing industrial hemp and recreational use of marijuana would in one year’s time revolutionize the state’s economy, and the region’s because CA, WA and BC would be right there with us. It might sound far-fetched but what’s even more outrageous is the idea that one-in-three or one-in-two Oregonians might someday be out of work or under-employed.