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Things fall apart

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The Latest
Tuesday, April 23, 2013



Lots of upheaval in the Oregon business world this past week, and CEOs and leaders of local business associations are not at all happy. The latest (bad) news comes from solar manufacturing startup SoloPower, which announced today it was shuttering its Hillsboro plant, calling into question the fate of millions of dollars in tax credits and future job creation.

That’s the clean tech employment report.

On the conventional energy side, jobs are also dematerializing. Last week, The Greenbrier Cos. announced it plans to lay off more than 200 workers at its Gunderson LLC plant in Northwest Portland. CEO Bill Furman blamed the layoffs, or furloughs as he calls them, in part on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's decision to withhold permits for the Morrow Pacific coal export project, which would send coal from Montana and Wyoming down the Columbia River for export to Asia.

Australia’s Ambre Energy has awarded Greenbrier's Gunderson division a $55 million contract to build 15 enclosed barges for the project.  

Business leaders are equally glum about the progress of PERS reform, the centerpiece of the 2013 Oregon Business Plan agenda.  Instead of addressing windfall payments under the PERS money match system, the Senate tomorrow will debate SB822, which reduces cost of living increases for PERS retirees, elimantes the payment PERS retirees get to offset Oregon income tax liability, and delays payment of $350 million into the system.

Oregon Business Plan leaders expressed their displeasure today in a news release: "If all the Legislature does on PERS this biennium is pass SB 822 and let employers skip a payment, Oregon schools will be looking at a decade ahead much like the last:  larger classes, shorter school years, and fewer class offerings -- even when revenues are increasing.”

Then there’s House Bill 2456 which would raise $275 million in new revenue mainly by increasing corporate tax rates and reducing deductions for the wealthy, neither of which tend to be priorities on the business agenda.

As the tide turns, business leaders might want to join Gov. Kitzhaber and decamp to Bhutan, where the Oregon statesman is attending an international gathering on Gross National Happiness — a project that seeks to move beyond conventional economic indicators as a measure of social progress.

OB Editor Linda Baker keeps tabs on public policy and CEO issues.



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