It turns out she didn’t like my timeline detailing the dramatic transformation of Oregon Steel, from an industrial powerhouse employing thousands to a minor cog within a debt-ridden Russian empire. For starters she questioned me on my facts, which came from public records, news stories and company press releases. Then the conversation quckly turned, as such discussions often do, to motives. Before long she had suggested that I was anti-business for writing the piece.
I’m not anti-business. I’m anti-job loss. As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I give credit where it is due. But when a Russian oligarch who really likes big yachts buys a major Oregon employer and a few years later a vital player in the Portland Harbor is hanging on for dear life, I feel compelled to point out a few facts. It’s up to the reader to decide whether or not the facts are relevant.
It is an unfortunate truth that most of the major local mergers and acquisitions of the past decade have enriched a handful of top executives and Portland dealmakers at the expense of the Oregon economy. Consider not just Oregon Steel, but Willamette Industries, Tektronix, G.I. Joe’s and Freightliner. Thousands of jobs have been lost since these once-mighty businesses gave up local control.
That’s one reason why Oregon leads the nation in true unemployment. As David Leonhardt reported in yesterday’s New York Times, Oregon’s rate soars to 23.5% once you factor in people who have given up on looking for work and others who settle for part time jobs but want to work full time. That's worse than Michigan's rate.
23.5%. That is a grim, Depression-era-type figure. Cutting it in half will take ingenuity, guts and serious work. Any business that creates jobs in this economy deserves full credit, and they will get it from me in this column.
I’m not anti-business. I’m anti-collapse.