Jeff Merkley hits the road

| Print |  Email
Articles - June 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BY LINDA BAKER 

0612 TheRoad 01
Sen. Jeff Merkley at the World Trade Center in Portland. He says the best thing about being a senator is having an avenue to address policy. The worst thing is the gridlock and "witnessing a broken institution."
// Photo by Anthony Pidgeon

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in April, and Jeff Merkley, Oregon’s junior Democratic senator, is headed west on I-84 near Boardman, explaining the purpose of the poplar trees growing along the highway. Managed by GreenWood Resources, the tree farm is to supply feedstock for ZeaChem, a company that hopes to produce advanced biofuels in its Port of Morrow based refinery.

“You might ask: Why poplar trees,” asks Merkley. He adds, reflectively: “I asked that question myself.” The answer? The GreenWood species boasts a high yield, reaches maturity in only two years and can regenerate after harvest.

A self-described math and science geek, the 55-year-old Merkley is fond of dissecting how things work, whether the subject is the conversion of woody biomass into cellulosic ethanol or the nuances of getting a bill passed in today’s “supermajority” Senate. His cerebral, detail-oriented approach to policy is one reason he’s on the road today. It’s part of a two-week Made in Oregon tour involving 47 manufacturing businesses around the state.

Since 2001, the country has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs and 40,000 manufacturing facilities. Merkley's goal is to help stop the hemorrhage by figuring out what’s working and not working for Oregon companies engaged in the business of making things.

Riding along with Merkley and his three aides for the Pendleton-Portland leg of the tour provides a glimpse of the hectic and sometimes absurd schedule of a U.S. senator — as well as the diversity of manufacturing in Oregon. With a few business roundtables and town halls thrown in for good measure, the trip also highlights the evolution of Merkley’s relationship with Oregon business owners, a group that wanted little to do with him during his campaign against two-term Republican Gordon Smith.

Merkley himself told Oregon Business in 2008: “While I was running, what I heard from the business community was that they didn’t think I could win.”

Today, as Merkley fundraises for his 2014 reelection campaign, the liberal son of a Roseburg millworker appears to be changing a few hearts and minds among Oregon business leaders, especially as he makes growth in manufacturing, central to Oregon’s economy, one of his key legislative priorities.

But tackling one of the country’s thorniest issues is no easy task, and the connection between policy at the federal level and the specific problems facing Oregon business is not always clear. The Made in Oregon tour is good meet-and-greet politics and reflects Merkley’s deliberative style. But the question for many business people, a group that is far from monolithic and often has competing interests, is what happens next.

“I give the senator credit for the interest and effort he is devoting to learning his state’s products and the challenges manufacturers face selling them in a global market,” says David Mercer, president of Mercer Windows in Beaverton, a stop on the tour. “So far, the senator is impressing me,” Mercer adds. “Now let’s see what kind of a salesman for Oregon business he can be.”

 



 

Comments   

 
Boyd Percy
-1 #1 RE: Jeff Merkley hits the roadBoyd Percy 2012-05-29 18:50:22
How about weaning us from the West Coast fuel prices?
Stop skyrocketing energy costs?
Cut the red tape and accompanying paperwork?
Get the government out of the health care business?
Quote | Report to administrator
 
 
Carl Mullan
0 #2 In support of local businessCarl Mullan 2012-06-11 19:28:37
"Made in Oregon Tour"

I like what I'm hearing.
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

Raising the Stakes

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

The 2014 Bend Venture Conference set a record for the most cash, investments and prizes awarded at an angel conference in the Pacific Northwest. Investments in the six winning companies exceeded $1 million. The 11th annual conference was hosted by Economic Development of Central Oregon.


Read more...

Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

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.


Read more...

Taking the lead in boosting Oregonians’ health and strengthening our economy

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, January 08, 2015
0108-injection-thumbBY CAMBIA HEALTH SOLUTIONS & OREGON BUSINESS COUNCIL | OP-ED

Businesses have a significant stake in the health of Oregonians. In fact, we cannot succeed without it. By committing to using our companies as levers for good health, we invest in our people, our business, our quality of life and our economy. 


Read more...

Corner Office: Steve Tatone

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits about the president and CEO of AKT Group.


Read more...

The city as startup

Guest Blog
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
011415 citystartup-thumbBY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Startups in the growth phase are associated with a fresh infusion of capital — human and financial — a curiosity factor and products to disrupt the market and drive demand. Portland’s economy gives off the same aroma.


Read more...

Free Falling

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, December 18, 2014
121714-oilprice-thumbBY JASON NORRIS | OB CONTRIBUTOR

The implosion of the energy complex: The best thing for low oil prices is low oil prices.


Read more...

Labor Pains

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Thinking about starting an internship program? Be careful. Navigating unpaid internships can be tricky.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS