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Land-use vote is a step to recovery

Oregon's economy is slowly gaining steam, but the progress is too slow, too narrow and lags behind the recovery seen elsewhere in the nation.

Positive economic trends recently in the news included a slight decline in Oregon's unemployment rate as well as a state government revenue forecast that showed little change from the previous forecast in the fall.

These two statistics have real meaning for everyday Oregonians, and their positive impact should not be dismissed. Oregon's slowly declining jobless rate reflects the fact that fewer people are out of work than at any time since November 2008. Meanwhile, a stable revenue forecast for state government means the Legislature won't have to reconvene and make cutbacks on top of the cutbacks it already enacted in previous sessions.

Slow growth is certainly better than stagnation or decline, which is what the state has experienced for most of the past four years. But recent economic news cannot mask the distressing reality that 169,000 people in Oregon are still looking for work. More than a third of those unemployed workers - 66,771 - live in Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas Counties.

Oregon's 8.5 percent unemployment rate in April is still a half a percentage point higher than the national average. That translates into fewer dollars for government services - including schools - because Oregon depends heavily on income taxes for its revenue. Income tax collections will go up only if more people are working.

So while everyone should cheer the gradual increase in economic activity, this state's key decision makers should also be talking about ways to accelerate job creation in the short term and position Oregon for better results in the long term.

A major decision along those lines will come Thursday, when the state Land Conservation and Development Commission will issue its ruling on expansion of the Portland area's urban growth boundary. This decision is important for economic development because the small amount of land Metro wants to bring into the boundary will provide essential parcels for new industry, new homes and new schools.

All three of those components - jobs, housing growth and education - are necessary for a healthy economy, so we continue to believe the commission should uphold the Metro Council's approval of the expansion and allow it to move forward. And, while we are sympathetic to the calls for more industrial land in Forest Grove and Cornelius, that fight is best saved for another day - though a day that must come sooner rather than later.

Having land to offer to large employers is an obvious need in the Portland area, which has a documented shortage of industrial property. It's not the only action required for a better economy, but it is a vital ingredient for attracting more manufacturers to this region.

Portland is in an enviable position to benefit from the federal government's renewed emphasis on manufacturing. This is the very type of work this region does well. In turn, manufacturing can create even more employment as suppliers, retailers and other businesses gear up to support new industries.

Oregon can't afford to let such opportunities go to waste. A thriving manufacturing sector in the three metropolitan counties, where more than half the manufacturing jobs in the state can be found, provides one of the economic pillars for all of Oregon.

The state's leaders should do all they can - through land-use policies, transportation investments and education - to assist an area of the economy that can pull Oregon from below the national average to above it.