The last time I visited Independence was on a cold morning three years ago, the day after Boise Cascade announced the closure of its veneer mill. The mayor and the city manager greeted me with coffee and optimism. When I returned recently, the optimism and coffee were still flowing.
The tiny city (2.3 square miles) on the west bank of the Willamette River has for the past three years been doggedly pushing on its economic development plans, and Mayor John McArdle and City Manager Greg Ellis seemed unbowed by the bad economy, job losses or high unemployment. The longtime mayor and Ellis were full-steam ahead on many fronts. “We’re not immune,” says the hard-charging McArdle. “We’re not Pollyanna. But it doesn’t pay dividends to say, ‘Woe is me.”’
Three years ago, the eight-screen movie theater had yet to open, the fate of the Boise site was unknown, the historic downtown struggled with vacancies, and the need for jobs was huge. Like many small, rural Oregon towns, the poverty levels were and are high.
It really doesn’t matter if the GDP, the local economists, the national pundits or your barber is telling you the recession is over. Most of you don’t think it is. In our latest poll, over 60% of the respondents said they don’t believe the recession is over.
"I think the recession is over," UO economist Tim Duy told the Oregonian this week, while “gazing past his young daughter … into sparkling waves off Hawaii.”
Nice work if you can get it, but many Oregonians can’t find a job and the state’s unemployment is among the highest in the nation. Duy and others also like to call this a jobless recovery.
The recession is hitting Oregon’s nonprofit sector hard. The Oregon Community Foundation’s midyear report on giving trends released this week shows that most of the 134 Oregon charitable nonprofits surveyed are under some degree of financial stress. It didn’t vary much from the report earlier this year from OCF.
The situation mirrors the national picture. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation’s 400 largest charities expect giving to drop by a median of 9% this year.
The OCF report doesn’t come as a surprise, given that foundations have lost equity in their funds; businesses are struggling to survive, while many have gone under; and the personal pocketbooks of all Oregonian have been pinched.
The Rose Quarter lies roughly halfway between my home and my office, and every time I roll past I wonder how such a prime piece of urban property can manage to be so very lame, in so many ways. Where are the quirky cafes, the funky breweries, the dance halls and the music clubs, the bike shops and the pool halls? Nothing but chain restaurants and endless parking lots: visionary urban planning circa 1975. This is not the Portland I know and love. It makes sense for the city and the Blazers to redevelop the quarter into something that reflects the soul of the city, because there’s really nowhere to go but up. The neighborhood just hasn’t been the same since it got bulldozed.
J.E. Isaac, the Blazers’ senior VP of Business Affairs, has a name for the neighborhood to come: JumpTown, a “green, vibrant and economically viable Rose Quarter.”
The end of Halloween heralds the unofficial beginning of the holiday retail rush, and signs of the season can already be seen sprouting throughout downtown Portland; miniature Christmas trees line the sidewalk around Pioneer Square, and department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue are already decking out their storefronts with holiday displays. Yet the number of vacant storefronts in the retail core is a telling indication of how tough 2009 has been on downtown businesses.
New openings have subsided but there are a few notable exceptions; Kettleman Bagel Company opened a third location downtown this summer, and from what I was told there, the store sees a regular morning and noontime rush from the neighboring high-rise business folk. Another recent addition with potential is Simon and Helen Director Park at Southwest Park and Taylor, a new urban plaza that officially opened last week. Located just a couple blocks away from Pioneer Courthouse Square, Director Park is like an artfully remodeled nook down the hall from Portland’s Living Room, featuring a glass canopy and a still-to-be-completed fountain and café.
Neighboring businesses that have endured construction noise and street closures will welcome the prospect of increased traffic and activity in the area, and a quick stop at Flying Elephants Delicatessen showed that the store’s prime location along the new park’s perimeter is certainly giving it a boost. But how much will the park really do for business? It’s difficult to tell so early on, and judging by the sparse foot traffic across the park’s gleaming expanse yesterday, Portlanders largely still don’t know the park is open, or just aren’t coming to it. More ominous is the long-awaited but still-delayed Park Avenue West building one block away, where Tom Moyer’s vision of a 22-story mixed-use tower remains mired in the muck of the recession.
Salem always has had a bit of a “pass-through” problem to contend with. Many of the state workers live somewhere else, and if you come down from Portland just to do business, which a lot of people do during the legislative session, you take a fast road into the city core, and then speed out again. This drive-by view of Salem doesn’t give you a full view of some impressive progress being made in the state’s capital, despite the recession.
Anytime I head to Salem, I always make it a point to spend time with Mayor Janet Taylor. The chic high-energy mayor knows her city inside out and on this trip the discussion was more poignant than previous ones. Taylor, who is 68, announced in mid-September that she would retire in December 2010, having by then served four two-year terms.
As we ate lunch at the Phoenix Grand Hotel, itself a point of pride for downtown redevelopment, she outlined what she would focus on in the next year: basically, jobs, jobs and jobs. It isn’t much different than the focus of her past three terms, and it’s refreshing to hear a politician’s understanding that without enough jobs in your community, nothing else really matters. Core issues of poverty, education and health all depend on being able to earn a livable wage.
Software-industry veteran Michael Hoffman was unexpectedly laid off a year ago, but he wasted no time getting back in the game. After 129 days, 74 job applications, 268 emails, 109 phone calls, four career fairs/networking events, 17 phone interviews and eight in-person interviews, Hoffman finally found a job as a senior project manager at Jeppeson Sanderson.
With so much experience in the job-seeking scene, Hoffman has a good sense of which tactics are effective and which are a waste of time, ideas he shared at a seminar this week hosted by the Rose City Software Process Improvement Network (SPIN) at Portland’s World Trade Center. The reality of the job landscape is a bleak one: As of August 2009, the ratio of job postings to unemployed people in Portland is 1-to-7 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics cited on Indeed.com. While that’s not as bad as cities like Miami and Detroit (ratios of 1-to-11 and 1-to-17, respectively), Portland’s competitiveness still outpaces most other major U.S. cities. So what are the best ways for Portlanders to go after opportunities and sell themselves effectively?
As far as online tools, Hoffman prefers using sites like Indeed.com and Craigslist for broad searches; Indeed aggregates job postings from other major sites and Craigslist is often used by smaller companies who don’t want to pay to advertise on the larger sites. In-person search activities like job fairs can be helpful, Hoffman says, but you don’t always have the opportunity to do much for yourself. “When I went to a job fair and there were at least a couple thousand people and you stand in line for half an hour to 45 minutes to have a two to three minute talk, it just becomes a little bit demoralizing,” Hoffman said. However, you can make the most of networking events by having unique conversations with reps that will help them remember you later. And if you’re at a busy single-company event, seek out the reps who aren’t talking to anybody, even if they don’t represent your field; as Hoffman learned, those conversations can lead to an interview with the right person.
The latest numbers show that Oregon has lost 124,300 jobs since I took this job in December of 2007. Clearly my writing is not good for the state’s economy. So forgive me if I dispense with the cheerleading and point out a few observations that give me reason for concern.
It starts with the banks. Lake Oswego-headquartered West Coast Bank is the latest to receive an ominously worded “cease and desist” order from the FDIC. That makes three important regional banks struggling for survival, if you add Columbia River Bank of The Dalles and Bank of the Cascades in Bend. Plus the complex situation of ShoreBank Pacific, which is wholly owned by a holding company operating under a cease and desist order of its own. These banks have to improve their capital positions or else, and that means they will be more reluctant to loan than ever.
Then there’s retail. Is it me or is the premature Christmas glitter looking even more desperate than usual this season? I realize that retail drives the economy, 70% of which is based on consumer spending. But is it really the duty of every American to purchase all the world’s plastic junk? Consumers lack confidence for a reason. With so many companies cutting costs, salaries and jobs, how much longer can consumers be expected to over-spend?
Tucked away among the restaurants and shops in Portland’s Old Town is NedSpace, a co-working office space for startups that combines old red brick architecture with a contemporary Ikea feel. A small crowd was gathered there last night for what looked like an after-work party, but the ambience was in contrast to the serious reason for the meeting. Most of the people were members of the startup community and were there to hear arguments against the controversial business taxes recently passed by the Legislature.
The meeting was organized by members of Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, a coalition of businesses and individuals that collected double the amount of signatures required to get the measures onto January’s ballot — the first time Oregon will vote on a statewide referendum since 2004. Two tax measures are at issue: One raises the minimum corporate tax and one raises personal income tax on the highest-earning individuals.
Bob Wiggins, managing partner of Mount Hood Equity Partners, named several reasons why the issue should matter to startups. In addition to the implications of the taxes themselves — raising the personal income tax alone would make Oregon’s the highest in the country — Wiggins mentioned Oregon’s lack of capital-gain deduction in its income tax and the tax-free appeal of nearby Vancouver, Wash., as added factors that will drive business out of Oregon if the measures are not defeated. “This is as bad as it could possibly get for the startup community,” Wiggins said. “All [these factors] are designed, it seems, to shoot us in the foot.”
Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.