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Business effort is needed

RETHINKING PORTLAND: Private sector can help sell Portland region

Portland-area businesses were asked Monday to step up and invest their leadership and millions of dollars to promote the vitality of the area's economy by creating an economic development effort that actively promotes the region - including Clark County, Wash.

Such an initiative is vitally needed and long overdue. Other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are far ahead of Portland in efforts to revitalize their economies and promote themselves to the rest of the world.

We recognize that strategies to invigorate the Portland and Oregon economies already are under way as part of the regional business plan, which was unveiled last January, and the Oregon Business Plan, which was unveiled in December 2002.

And we recognize that a few business people and a handful of groups, such as the Portland Ambassadors, have worked hard for years to promote the region.

Yet more needs to be done. What's missing has been a significant private-sector commitment to economic development and marketing of Portland. That's what we called for in the Tribune's ReThinking Portland edition published on July 25. And that's what was unveiled this week as part of the regional business plan: the creation of a private economic development effort that is well-funded through investments of largely private businesses.

On Monday, business leaders learned about Philadelphia's successful economic development efforts. Then they heard a pitch to invest $750,000 to $1.5 million in each of the next three to five years to bolster the Portland-area economy.

'Marketing as a region is the critical unit of economic development,' said Tom Morr, president of Select Greater Philadelphia. 'You tell a much more powerful story when you promote a natural geographic area - a natural metropolis.'

Morr told Portland business leaders that Select Greater Philadelphia is a successful marketing effort that promotes the economy and vitality of the 11 counties that make up the greater Philadelphia region.

The private group's efforts promote Philadelphia as a whole and direct businesses seeking to expand or relocate to work with government agencies that deal with land-use planning, tax or building code matters.

The result? Morr said Philadelphia is enjoying a transformation that includes greater positive national attention, sustained job growth, as well as increased pride and enthusiasm within the community as to the region's outlook.

He says the linchpin to Select Greater Philadelphia's effort is the involvement of businesspeople. 'I have found that business leaders bring a certain level of credibility. Government is important. But business can add to that because business is about relationships and business people do business with people they trust.'

The next key is marketing and promotion of the region. 'Marketing works,' he said. But Morr adds that successfully marketing a region takes time. 'You have to hit a lot of doubles. You have to hit a lot of singles. It's a lot like baseball. It's a process.'

Morr encourages Portland's new economic development effort to recognize Portland's differences from other regions. 'You have to start with a clear sense of what you have. Build on the things that you have here.'

We believe that any successful economic development effort for Portland cannot be based solely on attracting new businesses from outside the region.

The region is still made up of many existing small and medium-size businesses that need assistance to grow and prosper here. Such an emphasis will add greatly to efforts to convince out-of-state firms to locate here.

Business leaders also must do a much better job to help the general public understand and support the benefits of a healthy economy that sustains jobs and generates appropriate taxes for needed public services such as schools, public safety and parks.

We support a commitment to a new private economic development agency for the Portland area's future.

But this effort will need to be an ongoing commitment that is well-funded and invested in by the business community for many years to ensure that a healthy, sustained economy is a vital part of the fabric of the overall community.

Steve Clark is president of the Portland Tribune.