Death of timber money births a rural study

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Friday, June 01, 2007

CORVALLIS — Driven by the collapse of the federal timber payments to rural counties, a joint project between Oregon State University, the Association of Oregon Counties and the Ford Family Foundation will study the effect of the loss of that annual $280 million, and use the information to help chart the next chapter for rural Oregon.

Bruce Weber, director of OSU’s Rural Studies Program and leader of the project, says the study will be funded by a grant from the Ford Family Foundation, enlist the OSU extension faculty and use some of the community members trained in Ford’s leadership program. “We will be on the ground, trying to figure out how the loss of the money is playing out,” Weber says. Data gathering will begin in July and the study should be completed in 2008.

“The collaboration is broader than the loss of timber payments,” says Weber. “It’s about the future of rural Oregon.”

The final timber payment was made last September, and in some counties the money comprised more than 60% of their budgets. The payments funded schools, roads, libraries and other services. A plan to extend the pay-ments for one year was approved by the U.S. House in May, but its fate was still uncertain. And ultimately the money is considered gone for good.

The study effort was spurred by Laura Pryor, a former Gilliam County judge and member of the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance who has long advocated for rural Oregon.

“We need good on-the-ground information because this crisis is huge,” says Pryor. “There is no bailout from the state. It will take time for people to come to grips with it. This is our first attempt to get our arms around realities.”

Pryor and Mike McArthur, AOC’s executive director, both decry what they see as a lack of concern for rural Oregon in the state Legislature, citing most egregiously the expected death this year of the Office of Rural Policy, which is not in the co-chairs’ budget.

The groups hope the study will combat a lack of understanding about rural Oregon.

— Robin Doussard

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There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda

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