Greenlight Greater Portland hosted their fourth annual economic summit this morning at the Portland Art Museum. The seven-county region's private sector economic development organization unveiled its new name and brand that aim to market the region as an business-friendly and innovative area.
18 months ago at a dinner meeting of business and political leaders, talks of a merger first began. Board chair Mark Ganz credits Portland Mayor Sam Adams with being the first to say "let's stop talking about it and just do it now." In April, the organization merged with the publicly funded Regional Partners Council for Economic Development, becoming a private-public economic development organization now known as Greater Portland Inc. "We changed the name to reflect a new beginning for the organization and a more mature view of what this region is about," Ganz said. With the name change comes a new website and image, and soon, a new CEO.
As of 7:30 am, Greater Portland Inc. had chosen a new CEO to replace interim CEO Gillian Floren. However, board chair Mark Ganz said the entire board had taken a vow of silence on the matter and wouldn't be announcing the CEO's identity until the new CEO had a chance to announce to his (yes, Ganz let it slip that the CEO is male) community that he was leaving them to move to Portland. So we also know he's not from Oregon.
Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey explained that a merger of this caliber including public, private and academic has never happened before. He also said to keep an eye out for many more positive economic announcements coming from the city in the next six to eight months.
Gamz said that the organization's 4th Annual Economic Summit at the Portland Art Museum was an opportunity to have a public celebration of the combined strength of the new Greater Portland Inc. Besides unveiling a new brand strategy, the group took the opportunity at the summit to advocate for growing exports in the region.
Panelist Amy Liu, deputy director for the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, said that often she is asked "why concentrate on exports?" "Many economists agree that we need to tap markets outside of the United States," she said. "...its the only way the U.S. is going to get out of the recession." Yet only 1 percent of American firms are in the export business, Liu said, because companies are often set in their ways and just know the American market and rules better than foreign markets.
Another member on the "Exporting Greater Portland" panel was Bill Wyatt, who oversees a lot of exports in his role as executive director for the Port of Portland. He explained that one of the best indicators of an economy is the number of airport passengers, and the number of business travelers has been slowly climbing over the last few months.
Other panel members included Richard Lin, Pasul Primak and Paul Pawlowski. Lin is Senior Director of Geographic Sales for the Americas for Triquint Semiconductor. Triquint dominates exports in the greater Portland area, along with Intel. Primak is Director for International Programs for the Oregon University System. He explained that international students are a monetary investment as well as an investment in relationships. The thousands of students that leave Portland-area schools are one of the area's greatest exports, especially when they return and can help exporters learn to work effectively in the countries in which they studied. Pawlowski is a senior urban designer and planner for SERA Architects, known for their commitment to sustainable practices. He explained that 55% of SERA's employees are LEED-certified--including their receptionist. He mentioned his work in Qatar, the country whose Oregon ties are the subject of an Oregon Business feature this July.
The general consensus of the panel was that the greater Portland area needs to concentrate more on exports. President Obama has promised to double American exports by 2014, the perfect opportunity for Portland to make itself known as a global powerhouse.
The highlight of the summit's afternoon session was expected to be an appearance by Trailblazer legend Bill Walton, who is giving the keynote address, along with an auction of a Walton-signed basketball.
Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.