Tiny, beautiful Baker City has, like most rural Oregon towns, long struggled to create new business and jobs out of the ashes of its natural resources industry. The seat of a remote county with a population of only 16,000, Baker suffers from high unemployment but it does not suffer from a lack of trying.
The recession destroyed more than 8 million jobs. And while a federal report issued last week showed that the nation gained back 290,000 of those jobs in April, it will be a long time before the economy will be able to soak up the millions who are unemployed.
It’s unusual for Oregon’s rural communities to get the spotlight. With most of the population of the state living in the Portland Metro area, rural towns are out of sight and generally out of mind. Rural leaders for years have told me that they figure they are pretty much on their own to reinvent their depressed economies, and unfortunately I have to agree with them.
This year’s Pulitzer Prizes were distinguished by a new-generation nonprofit newsroom sharing a prize with an old-generation newspaper newsroom. And while the prize duly rewards remarkable work and shows that a new content model clearly produces outstanding journalism, it doesn’t prove a financial solution for the distressed industry.
This week, ProPublica shared the Pulitzer for investigative work with The New York Times for the astounding story that a ProPublica reporter did about a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina, which ran in The New York Times Magazine. ProPublica has been up and running for only a little more than two years. Based in Manhattan, it is focused on investigations in the public interest and is primarily funded by Bay Area billionaires Herbert and Marion Sandler, whose Sandler Foundation gave $10 million to start the nonprofit. ProPublica’s stories are offered free to traditional news organizations and also published on its website.
Paul Steiger, ProPublica’s editor-in-chief, told Joe Strupp of Media Matters after the prizes were announced Monday that winning the Pulitzer “suggests that our nonpartisan, nonprofit model can serve a role in this time of expanding change in the media.”
I’ve never bought a single lottery ticket in my life. Not even a single scratch-off. But if women who live in Lake Oswego (I am, I do) keep winning the $1 million raffle, I might have to rethink my investment strategy.
The latest winner could have been me. Sandy Hendricks last week was the second woman from Lake Oswego in three years to win the million-dollar Oregon Lottery Raffle. Hendricks, who won the St. Patrick’s Day Raffle, told reporters she is in her early 50s (I am) and has Irish grandparents (I do). "You know, I've never played a raffle before," Hendricks told the Oregonian (ditto). "I bought a ticket because I like leprechauns, I guess."
Well, I don’t like leprechauns (frankly, they creep me out). I don’t believe in luck, or at least I don’t believe that I’m lucky, so I’ve never seen the purpose in buying games of chance.
Mayors across the country have been throwing themselves in icy waters and shark tanks and renaming their cities, children and ice cream after Google, all in the hopes of getting a free super high-speed broadband network. Portland over the weekend staged a game of Telephone.
This really can’t compete with babies named Google Fiber, though it does have its charms in a PDX geeky kind of way (it was dubbed “Woo the Goog”). The city hoped it would be the world's longest game of Telephone, where a sentence is whispered from one player to the next until the end, when the beginning and ending phrases are compared. Alas, it was nowhere near the crowd needed to break the 2004 record of 614 people. (Official crowd estimates are still to be released, but one early attendee said maybe 50 were there at the start.) At the Saturday event, the first Telephone sentence uttered was: "PDX has the brains and nerve to welcome Google high speed.” The last one, received by an 8-year-old (and who better, I say): "The Internet place is really great."
The good news about the Portland metro area’s dismal retail scene is that vacancies will rise only slightly this year. The bad news isn’t too hard to figure out: high unemployment will continue to keep the lid on any robust recovery. “The outlook for 2010 is subdued,” says real estate expert Tony Cassie. “We’re starting to come out of it, but we’re not going to really come out of it until job numbers improve.”
And that could take until next year. A recent report by national real estate investment services firm Marcus & Millichap pointed out that employers were expected to only slightly expand payrolls by 1.4% in 2010, adding 13,500 jobs versus the 70,000 that were lost over the past two years. That great destruction of jobs “will keep foot traffic low and delay meaningful leasing activity,” according to the report.
“It’s going to be a challenging environment for retail,” says Cassie, the regional manager of Marcus & Millichap’s Portland office.
Oregonians are driving less, spending less on food, saving less for retirement and working less compared to their neighbors in Idaho and Washington. As pollster Adam Davis says about his recent findings: “When the economy is bad it tends to be worse in Oregon.”
Who are the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon? The 2010 list was revealed last night at a grand party of 700 at the Oregon Convention Center. The envelope, please:
For months we’ve been surveying, crunching, preparing for this moment and the class of 2010 is an amazing group of dedicated employers. We’ve devoted the March issue of Oregon Business to celebrating those great workplaces in our 17th annual edition of the 100 Best Companies. Nearly 20,00 employees from 303 companies participated in the free, anonymous workplace satisfaction survey. This is not a beauty pageant. The satisfaction scores from those surveys are calculated by independent research firm Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall to come up with the 100 Best rankings.
The event last night was frosting on the cake for these 100 companies, who out of sight of the spotlight have spent enormous energy to make their business a place that strives every day to treat their employees with respect, openness and trust. They found large and small ways to tell their workers that they care.
I know the upcoming Academy Awards hog the spotlight when it comes to a star-studded event oozing with excitement and suspense over who will get the coveted Oscar. But maybe that’s because you haven’t heard about our 100 Best Companies awards.
This year the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon will be revealed on March 4 at the Oregon Convention Center. For 17 years, Oregon Business has honored those Oregon companies that go the extra mile to create a great place to work for their employees. Rumors are that George Clooney will host.
OK, the Clooney thing's a lie, but it is a fun party with lots of local heroes from the business community being honored.