From the Editor: Bikes, ports and pot

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Articles - April 2014
Thursday, March 27, 2014

The process of selecting articles for each issue of Oregon Business is more art than science. Each issue has an editorial theme, but within that framework, latitude is encouraged. At first glance, the connection between this month’s feature stories — briefly noted in the above headline — seems elusive. A closer look reveals a few commonalities beyond April’s trade and transportation focus.

First, as always, we selected a story mix reflecting the state’s blend of traditional and up-and-coming business sectors. The city of Portland is defined both by its historic port and its pioneering approach to two-wheeled transportation. Meanwhile, Oregon’s new medical marijuana registry marks another step toward the creation of a legitimate pot industry, with investors and businesses poised to capitalize on a new cash crop.

Transition is another recurring theme. As reporter Lee van der Voo documents in her story about the Port of Portland, the latter is at a crossroads, confronting turmoil on the docks and an economy that is increasingly focused on livability, even as onshoring and rising demand in Asia boost traditional Oregon exports.

Portland’s bike economy is also in flux, reports Courtney Sherwood in her article, “Business Cycles.” As the private sector — law firms, tech companies, real estate investors — drives a new wave of bike-oriented businesses, public sector funding for cycling infrastructure has plateaued, rendering uncertain the next stage in Portland’s expanding cycling economy.

It goes without saying that the legal marijuana industry is at a critical juncture. Although the 2014 Oregon legislature did not refer legalization to the ballot, voters may still see a signature-driven initiative this November. And as writer Joshua Hunt reports, the pot industry will likely unfold very differently in urban and rural parts of the state.

Not to belabor the similarities, but here are two final thoughts. Our story lineup this month underscores the role of cultural trends — growing acceptance of marijuana, lifestyle as a business-development tool — in fueling job growth and creating new markets for Oregon products and services.

Our April features also showcase the prominence of the private sector in shaping local policies and practices. Business, more than ever, has become a driver of change, leaving an indelible imprint on sectors as disparate as bikes, ports and pot.

 

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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.

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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.

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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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