BY EMMA HALL
The Oregon Business Plan's seventh annual leadership summit got under way this morning with the theme of breaking from business as usual. This theme comes despite major similarities between the state economy now in 2010 and in 2002 when the first summit was held.
Oregon is beset with high unemployment (currently above 10%, compared to 2002's 7%) and a state budget shortfall projected to be $3.2 billion, $1 billion more than it was at 2002's summit.
This year's summit at the Oregon Convention Center features both outgoing governor Ted Kulongoski and incoming (not-so-new) governor-elect John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber will deliver the keynote this afternoon.
The summit this morning focused on hour-long regional economic strategy sessions, dividing the state into eight areas: Central Oregon, Eastern Oregon, the Gorge, Klamath Basin, NW Oregon, the Rogue Valley, the South Coast and the Willamette Valley.
Over breakfast, business leaders from all over the state discussed their specific regions and what was being done to improve the state's economy. Attendees discussed what kind of role each region could play in improving the state economy, and what the most important thing the state could do to partner with each region.
After an hour of collaboration and discussion, all attendees of the OBC leadership summit met for a plenary session in the convention center's ballroom.
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley made opening remarks, focusing on ending business as usual in Oregon. The senators are both returning to Washington, D.C., later today.
Wyden said that at the federal level, ending business as usual means three things:
-Cutting the federal budget deficit and creating jobs
-Ending what has happened with the government becoming enslaved to process and procrastination.
-Restoring Oregon's traditional industries and finding new ones the state can improve on.
Wyden referenced a few of his plans to help the state's economy. They include:
-Reviving the timber industry
-Containing healthcare costs
-Overhauling the federal tax policy
-Encouraging trade and exports
-Establishing Oregon's agriculture brands in Asia before Australia, Chile and New Zealand
-Designing and manufacturing green energy components for export, especially solar panels and wind energy components
-Increasing digital trade through software innovation and cloud computing (Wyden called the Internet the "shipping lane of the 21st century")
"I know you're going to give us a solid game plan for changing business as usual," Wyden said.
Merkley emphasized the need for access to capital to encourage small business development and increase jobs.
"Frozen lending has been a huge handicap in finding our way out of this economic recession," Merkley said.
Pat Reiten, chair of the Oregon Business Plan Steering Committee, presented the "Agenda for 2011 and Beyond."
"This is not the Portland business plan, it's not the Salem business plan, it's the Oregon business plan, so all of Oregon should own it," Reiten said.
When Pam Silbernagel of the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments addressed members of the Willamette Valley regional session, she asked who in the room thought Oregon's economy would be better in three years. After looking around at representatives for Oregon's higher education facilities, entrepreneurs, and state representatives, a majority of the room raised their hands high.
Emma Hall is a contributing writer for Oregon Business.