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Lets focus on better, not bigger

TWO VIEWS • Sound policies will help Oregon absorb influx of new residents

Last fall, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski went on record as issuing a plea for an influx of new residents to Oregon. The premise behind the plea, according to Kulongoski, is that 'you're not going to have growth in the economy without a growth in the population.'

The governor deserves applause for his desire to reduce unemployment and reinvigorate our state economy. However, one must question his approach to dealing with these challenges.

Since Kulongoski takes issue with former Gov. Tom McCall's comments about keeping Oregon's population in check, let's look at a couple of facts:

• In the 30 years since McCall was in office, the population of Oregon has grown by 58 percent, or about 1.3 million people.

• If the growth rate continues, Oregon's population will jump to 5.5 million by 2033, and 13.8 million in 2093. And you thought traffic was bad now.

A growing population brings a host of problems Ñ increased taxes, congested highways, crowded schools, pressure on communities to build new public infrastructure and loss of open space.

In addition, increasing Oregon's population will exacerbate our unemployment situation, not improve it. An influx of new residents means that even if the unemployment rate holds steady or decreases slightly, we have a larger total number of unemployed given our now-larger population base.

There are better ways to decrease unemployment and improve our economy than by cramming more folks into Oregon.

To start, let's wean ourselves from the obsession with landing a 'trophy' corporation. Research shows that up to 75 percent of the new jobs provided by such big companies go to new residents, not to existing residents.

The majority of new jobs come from small, locally owned businesses. Our state and local leaders would be well-advised to focus on making it easier to own and operate such businesses, rather than seeing who can give away the most in subsidies to attract out-of-town corporations that will only stay until subsidies end or until a better deal is offered elsewhere.

The solution lies not in making Oregon bigger but in making it better. The best way to do that is to nurture and support what we already have in Oregon: a wonderful base of locally owned businesses. Let's train more people to own and operate small businesses and provide them with an adequate support structure.

Local businesses circulate dollars in the local economy longer than do other businesses. They also tend to pay higher wages and act as more committed and caring members of the community. As an added benefit, smaller, locally owned companies tend to be better able to prosper in the ups and downs of an uncertain global economy.

So by all means, Gov. Kulongoski, let's work hard to lower unemployment. Let's build a vibrant, healthy and resilient state economy. But let's do it the right way Ñ by building and supporting a predominantly local economy.

After all, the people who make the best decisions for Oregon live right here.

Chuck Adams is executive director of Alternatives to Growth Oregon. He graduated from the University of Colorado and now lives in West Linn. He also is president of West Linn Youth Football.