Regional Approach the Best Economic Development
(The Oregonian, September 8, 1988)
By Richard Carson
Oregon's state and local economic development efforts are confronted with changing political agendas.
While the state [of Oregon] is promoting the Children's Agenda, local politics are filled with talk of crime, drugs and jail space. Indeed, the words "economic development" are being legally reinterpreted in order to feed the new agendas with lottery money.
Unfortunately, this shift in political priorities occurs when Oregon's greatest economic development opportunity is emerging.
This change in attitude is a result of Oregon's dropping unemployment rate, record employment levels and predictions of unprecedented economic growth. Oregonians are back to work, and the mills are humming. Today the question in not whether we need to leave the state in order to find jobs, but how to reclaim our quality of life.
Oregon is just beginning to experience a trend in the consolidation or elimination of local economic development programs. Jackson and Josephine county economic development programs have recently merged to form Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. The East Multnomah County Economic Development Commission has disbanded.
An editorial in The Oregonian (June 2, 1988) noted that this latter event "might be a blessing in disguise." The loss of local capacity to assist businesses is never a "blessing," but neither is competition between partners in a well-defined regional economy. The Portland metropolitan area's competition is not within the region, but with other Western metropolitan areas.
The Southern Oregon groups saw the wisdom in this, as did the Eugene-Springfield Metropolitan Partnership and the Central Oregon Economic Development Council. Governor Neil Goldschmidt also understands this and has attempted to foster regional cooperation statewide through his Regional Strategies program.
The economic reality is that B.F. Goodrich did not choose between Eugene and Springfield when locating its $15 million carbon brake plant. It chose Pueblo, Colorado. Target stores did not choose between the city of Medford and Jackson County when locating its $25 million distribution facility. It chose Sacramento. The new Intel and Siemens joint venture company, BiiN, did not choose between Hillsboro and another Portland metropolitan area city. It chose Oregon over the East Coast.
There always is the danger that, as Shakespeare noted, "what's past is prologue." We need to he concerned about a return to the earlier anti-growth attitudes. In the face of good times, it takes tenacity to maintain our efforts to help small businesses expand and mature.
In Oregon, we now have a chance to build a solid foundation for our economic diversification efforts. Statewide land-use planning Goal 9 (Economic Development) was amended in February to bring it into compliance with earlier legislation.
The law is very specific about what each community is required to consider in the planning process. One of the most important requirements is that each community is now required to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of its economy in the context of the state and national economy.
The new goal standards also require each community to provide for an adequate supply of sites, specifically by size, type, location and service level. The plan should also consider the potential land use needs of individual industries and provide them with choice in the marketplace. Industrial property is not a homogeneous product. We have to start asking questions now about who will be building the factories of the future and what their needs will be.
There is one notable barrier to implementing these major state economic development requirements. They are receiving little, if any, state support. The environmental and natural resource planning goals implemented in the late '70s had substantial state resources budgeted to help local jurisdictions secure additional short-term staffing and analysis. Today there is nothing set aside for implementing economic development into the land use planning process.
Our local, state and national perceptions about the economy are changing. Even in Los Angeles we can hear the mayor touting a new "slow-growth" policy. Which direction will the Portland region and the state economic development efforts take?
In Oregon, economic development is destined to join the other great mileposts of our recent history: land use planning and environmental quality.
Hopefully, we will not lose sight of the continuing need to diversify our economy, improve the quality of our jobs and increase the income of our residents.
Richard H. Carson is director of planning and development for Metro and was formerly operations manager for the Business Development Division of the Oregon Economic Development Department.