The headline on a recent ad in a Portland newspaper was as subtle as a Glenn Beck symposium on global warming: FED UP WITH TAXES? Come grow your organization in Vancouver. I can understand big, bad Chicago trying to poach, but now our friendly little neighbor across the river?
When the tax measures passed in late January, there were predictions that the new taxes would push businesses out of the state. A few rapid examples pointed to the reality of that fear. Two weeks after the vote a story in the Portland Business Journal cited several companies laying off workers or planning to move (and some had had relocation offers from other Washington cities!). Another story in the Mail Tribune reported that Medford-based ComNet was “among more than two dozen companies that have notified the Oregon Legislature of their intent to leave the state.”
Apparently not one to leave potential business on the table, the EastRidge Business Park in Vancouver placed the ad for a month in the business journal, according to Adam Roselli, a broker for Eric Fuller & Associates and EastRidge. After all, Washington only has a sales tax and Oregon’s new taxes raise rates on corporations and high-earning individuals.
Portland State University’s School of Business Administration publicly launched its new Social Innovation Incubator last week, around the time that we were considering a poll on what stifles entrepreneurship in Oregon. The business mood is a little sour these days with the tax measures battle, the enduring downturn, seemingly endless layoffs, and Main Streets pockmarked with vacancies. It has some wondering whether Oregon is a good place to do business.In the goofy-but-telling category, last Friday the chief of the state’s economic development agency fired back at Chicago’s mayor, who had invited any unhappy Oregon businesses to come to the Windy City if they were steamed that the tax measures passed. And then Beaverton's mayor piled on in a letter published Sunday in the Chicago Sun-Times. It's an economic slapfest that tells you something about how desperate states are for jobs and growth.
Outside the heat of all this, PSU's business school, widely regarded as a leader in social and environmental stewardship, was steadily and quietly building its incubator, which is designed to help established and startup business get to their triple bottom line, or “generate social, environmental and economic value.”
I don't usually cede my blog to other writers (in fact, never), but this missive I just got today from the desk of Tim McCabe, chief of the state's economic development agency, challenging Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to an economic duel was just too fun.
It just wouldn’t be a legislative session without a water issue to whack around. This will sound familiar. David Nelson, the Republican state senator from Pendleton, has introduced a bill that seeks more water from the Columbia River for uses ranging from livestock, mining and irrigation to recreation, wildlife and fish.
“My wife called me crazy,” Nelson says. That would be Alice Nelson, who is also the senator’s legislative assistant. Crazy, perhaps, because Nelson and Eastern Oregon farmers, irrigators and others have tried unsuccessfully for years to get more water from the Columbia, which is tightly regulated by state and federal rules regarding endangered species, tribal rights, hydro flows and a myriad of other interests.
Nelson is eternally convinced that there’s plenty of extra water in the river, and it’s the way Oregon can climb out of its budget hole. He doesn’t seem to mind beating his head against the wall on this idea. He’s semi-famous for calling the Columbia’s water Oregon’s “oil,” and believes that Oregon could sell its water to parched states such as California for big bucks. “You want to raise some money for education and all the other things? We’re going to have to start looking at our natural resources,” Nelson says. “I’m not saying how or when we should use it.” Nelson says this bill simply restates reserving 30 million acre feet of water that was approved 20 years ago by the Oregon Water Resources Commission and later overruled by the state’s attorney general.
The tax rumble is over. The Sharks beat the hell out of the Jets. But everyone woke up this morning bruised and battered by the fight. It’s hard to feel great, even if you win, when the street is covered with blood and you realize the fight settled nothing.
For weeks, the Yes lead fighter, Steve “Bernardo” Novick, and the No frontman, Pat “Riff” McCormick, have been tied at the wrists, knives in the other hand, circling and slashing one another on street corners everywhere.
With last night’s passage by the voters of tax increase Measures 66 and 67, the cops blew the whistle and broke up the $12 million rumble. By a solid margin, Oregonians decided to raise taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, approved higher minimum taxes on corporations and increased the tax rate on upper-level profits.
The Tri-County News in Junction City and the West Lane News in Veneta died in late December so quickly that they didn’t even have time to write their own obit. The weeklies had been publishing for many decades.
“I just don’t have the money to continue,” owner Andrew Polin, who bought the weeklies in April 2008, told the Eugene Register-Guard. “I’m hoping it will be resurrected by someone.”
That someone came along this week. Not a deep-pocket investor or big-city chain, but a couple of former dishwashers who believe their community needs a local newspaper. Lorenzo Herrera, Nelson Rosales and Jennifer Rosales sent out birth announcements yesterday, proudly announcing that their Tri-County Tribune would begin publishing weekly on Jan. 28.
Two pieces of higher education news swam across the flotsam and jetsam of my desk in the past few days. Higher ed news always catches my attention because of its fundamental connection to business.
The Joint Boards of Education, which consists of the Boards of Education and Higher Education, and the Oregon Business Council met as the “Tri-Board” last week to discuss how K-12 and higher education can partner with the business community and, according to OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner, “to determine what students should be learning, and how to evaluate that learning, not just course by course, but as the cumulative result of a college experience.”
The result was that the Tri-board approved standardized credits for the International Baccalaureate classes passed by high school students; approved statewide standards for the General Education course to make it easier to transfer; and approved clarification of the coursework included in the Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree.
Doussard Family Industries held a day-long retreat over the holidays and decided that the company needed to jump on the social media bandwagon in a big way to better facilitate communication externally and internally. DFI has a long history of poor communication practices, and frankly I have to blame it entirely on the operations manager.
Ops is a loyal employee, and sometimes works hard. OK, not hard, but his heart is in the right place. He never forgets to bring beer to the company picnic. But he is just not cutting edge with anything but his hedge clippers.
As CEO, CFO and chief marketer, I had to convince Ops that we needed to get active on Twitter. Despite 31 years of trying to modernize him (hello, 1970s haircut!) Ops is still a Victorian when it comes to new technology, especially ones that require him to interface with humans. So we spent this past weekend in beta so Ops could be trained before we went public. The rule was that we could only communicate via Twitter. No email, no face-to-face, no phone calls.
I did not lose 10 pounds, learn French or save more for retirement. I did not call my mother more often, did not curb my iPhone app addiction and certainly came nowhere near being more forgiving and accepting of the weaknesses and irritating habits of others. And that promise to spend less time on Gawker? Crikey. I’m up to three hours a day now that Tiger News has gone 24-7.
The New Year’s resolutions I made 12 months ago are in a pathetic dead heap at my feet as 2010 rounds the bend. But hope springs eternal and I’m ready to make a new batch. Over at 43things.com, 84,659 people have made 172,613 resolutions. The top five: lose weight, be happy, fall in love, get a job, travel. Fall in love is a resolution? The serendipity of romance clearly is a last-century deal.
Anyway, goody for those 84,659 people, but I need to lower the bar. So I resolve to never step on a weight scale again, never say Avatar changed my life, and never utter the phrase “lipstick on a pig.”
If all goes as announced today, the beleaguered Ash Grove Cement plant will lay off 68 of its 116 workers. Most of the employees of the Durkee factory live in Baker County, which has an unemployment rate of 10.4%. That does not include the job losses at Ash Grove, one of the county’s biggest employers that’s faltering because of the recession.
That 10.4% figure (for October) is a little better than the state’s November unemployment rate of 11.1%, which is uncommon for rural counties. But regional economist Jason Yohannan told the Baker City Herald that the Ash Grove layoffs would overshadow four months of steady rates. “I wouldn’t get too upbeat about a couple months of stable unemployment numbers,” he said.
Another story in the Herald had Huntington residents also concerned about the loss of Ash Grove jobs. “Hopefully these layoffs will be temporary. Ash Grove is vital to this community, and to the entire area,” one resident told the Herald. “Those are good-paying, steady jobs with good benefits.”
Economist John Mitchell was miked and prowling the audience, a business breakfast crowd’s Oprah without the free cars or gift baskets. At one point during Mitchell’s detailed but entertaining and humorous summary of the bitter economy, a man whispered to his tablemate: “I could use a glass of wine.”
Mitchell is a well-known war horse on the speaker’s circuit. Now a consultant, he was the chief economist for U.S. Bancorp for years and has been making economic presentations around the country and region for decades. Mitchell was at the Governor Hotel presenting his 2010 economic forecast at a forum hosted by the Portland Business Alliance Wednesday, and as he paced around the room, he went through a painful recounting of where we stand.Among the litany of woe: every state has year-over-year employment declines; it's longest recession in 78 years; and the federal government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar spent. Yet, technically the recession is over with third-quarter 2009 seeing a small rise in GDP; housing might have reached its bottom; the global economy is improving; and there has been an uptick in employment over the past few months in 28 states.
I didn’t throw myself against glass doors on Black Friday to be one of the first shoppers to snag one of those freaky little robot hamsters ("Zhu Zhu Pets don’t poop, die or stink, but they are still a riot of motion and sound!”). And I didn’t spend all my time surfing the web on Cyber Monday. I actually was working at my computer all day (really, boss, I was).
I’ve basically stopped shopping, and I’m beginning to feel like a Communist since I’m being told that my willingness to spend, even if it’s a stupid thing to do, is the only thing that will save the country. And now I have those poor rich bastards in Dubai to worry about.
My fellow business and news writers have breathlessly charted the biggest shopping days of the year this past week as if they were witnessing the end of the world. Will the American consumer come back in force? Will they spend more or less? What will happen if they don’t grossly spend beyond their means and the world economy sinks even lower!? I thought at one point a TV interviewer was going to pass out from the anxiety of it all. Santa, please bring me one TV news show that knows the difference between covering frenzied Wal-Mart shoppers and covering Hurricane Katrina.
The young Lopez brothers were standing by themselves at our table when I showed up Wednesday morning for the Arts Breakfast of Champions, an annual celebration of businesses that support the arts. The brothers — Joaquin, 34, and Salvador, 32 — are small businessmen. La Bonita, their family-owned Mexican restaurant on NE Alberta, employs 12 people, four of them family members. They opened La Bonita 10 years ago. “At first, it made $100 a month,” said Joaquin. “Now it provides livable wages for our family.”
For several years, Joaquin, the owner, has donated free catering to the Miracle Theatre for opening nights and other events. Those donations allow the theater, located on SE Stark, to keep prices affordable so families of all incomes can attend. The restaurant has also donated to other groups such as the Latino gay pride festival. How does a small operation like La Bonita find the time and resources to do this? “I just do it,” he said.
It was a morning full of stories like that; stepping up and doing something even if you are small, even if you don't have unlimited resources. Business for Culture & the Arts called them "the heroes" in honoring them, and that seems like the right title. They might not have the deeply appreciated big pockets of top business donors such as Bank of America, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo (which collectively gave $1.4 million this past year), but they help lift the arts in their own heroic ways.
The annual business summit that brings together hundreds of the state’s business, political and civic leadership has been cancelled this year after seven consecutive summits. “We have decided to take a year off,” said the Oregon Business Plan's steering committee in an announcement Nov. 13.
“In these difficult and uncertain economic times, we want to 1) continue to promote implementation of the work already proposed in the Business Plan and 2) take a fresh look at the plan and its initiatives to bring to the Leadership Summit in December 2010," the committee said.
That summit would come after the general election, where the state will elect a new governor. The state’s business community has made no secret about how unhappy it is over Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s signing into law this past Legislative session tax increases on businesses and the incomes of wealthy Oregonians. Businesses led the drive to bring the measures to a vote in a Jan. 26, 2010, special election.
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.
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.
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.
It was 7:30 a.m. on a recent morning and my brain fog was still thick. I was invited to attend the Portland chapter meeting of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, whose speaker that morning was Mark Moses, a CEO coach and motivational speaker from Irvine, Calif.
I sat next to an owner of a local roofing company, and as we ate, he told me that his very small business was about to go bankrupt. He had started it a few years ago when the housing boom was still surging. I asked him what he would do, and he shrugged and said he would just start looking for a job, any job, because keeping his family safe was the most important thing. The room was full of people from real estate-related companies, and everyone was feeling the pain.
Moses then got up to deliver his spiel. He started his first company, a painting service, when he was 19; sold it in 1992 and founded Platinum Capital Group, a mortgage company that despite its “ups and downs” was wildly successful. Then his son got cancer, but thankfully recovered, and he began competing in Ironman events to raise money for charity, eventually selling his business in 2006 and moving on to teach other CEOs how to be successful. Motivational tagline: “On your mark, get set, grow!”
The Allison officially opened Sept. 25 and on that weekend hosted its first wedding. General manager Pierre Zreik took me on that spring tour and told me then that they absolutely had to make their deadline because they had a wedding booked for opening weekend and you never make a bride mad. Just a few days ago, the happy bride proudly sent Zreik wedding pictures.
The dream completed is Joan Austin’s. Austin founded dental equipment maker A-Dec with her husband Ken in 1964. Over the decades, she acquired 450 nearby acres, all within the urban growth boundary. The inn sits on 35 of those acres about two miles of Highway 99W and construction began in November 2007. When I interviewed Austin in April, she would not say (and has not said) what the Allison cost. It only mattered to her that she was creating a gift to the community she had lived in for 60 years, one where she built a business and a home and raised a family. Her dream was to leave behind a place that would provide jobs, a community gathering spot, and a point of pride.
Last night, in the presence of a sell-out crowd of 560 at the Portland Art Museum, we ended a two-year journey and began another one when Oregon Business unveiled its first 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon.
I was so moved by the turnout that I impulsively asked everyone to stand at the beginning, and asked everyone to turn and hug their tablemate since I couldn’t give that many people a giant hug. Maybe because this is Oregon, or maybe because this was a heart-driven group, they actually did it. It was a room full of laughing, hugging people. It took me about half the program to recover from the emotion, flubbing a few remarks along the way.
There couldn’t have been a better debut. Former Gov. Barbara Roberts delivered a spirited keynote address that drew on her personal story of how, as a single mother with an autistic son, she advocated for his rights and in the process launched not only groundbreaking legislation for the disabled but her political career. She challenged the audience to not get dragged down by the current tough economy by telling the story of her ancestors on the Oregon Trail. They had nothing when they arrived in this state, and built it from scratch. So if you need a problem fixed and can’t find the help? Look in the mirror and you’ll find the leader you need.
I’ve reported on the city of The Dalles for several years and marvel at the patience and perseverance those folks have for the arduous process of remaking their downtown, a hard-by-the-rails hodge-podge of discount stores and small boutiques; part beautifully restored historic buildings and part eyesores.
The town was cut off from the Columbia River when I-84 was built decades ago, and city officials have ambitious plans to turn the town back around to face the river that include a second highway underpass; completion of a riverfront trail; restoration of historic buildings; and upgrading the look of First, Third and Fourth streets.
More than two years ago I wrote about how the much-heralded arrival of a Google server farm belied the decades of hard work and planning that kept the town moving forward despite its boom-bust cycle that started with the aluminum downturn in the ’80s. The town also struggles with historically high unemployment, high poverty rates and low wages. And this recession has been as brutal to them as anyone.