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|Articles - June 2012|
|Tuesday, May 29, 2012|
Page 1 of 4
BY LINDA BAKER
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.”
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Wednesday, July 15, 2015
We asked readers to weigh in on the fossil fuel-green energy equation.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY KIM MOORE
A conversation with Greg Lambert, president of Mid Oregon Personnel Services.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Jeff Lang and his wife Rae used to dole out campaign checks like candy. “We were like alcoholics,” Lang says. ”We couldn’t just give a little.”
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Oregon’s new marijuana law is expected to lead to a bevy of new business opportunities for the state. And not just for growers. Law firms, HR consultants, energy efficiency companies and many others are expected to benefit from the decriminalization of pot, according to panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast meeting on Tuesday.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
One year after he was appointed chair of the Portland Development Commission, Tom Kelly talks about PDC's longevity, Neil Kelly's comeback and his new role as Portlandia landlord.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Former Governor John Kitzhaber's resignation in February prompted some soul searching in this state about ethical behavior in industry and government.
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