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Takeover leaves a regional bruise

HarryLenhart on BUSINESS

The loss of Willamette Industries to an out-of-state takeover Ñ the latest in a string of them Ñ has a lot of obvious negatives attached to it.

It's a blow to Portland's civic pride and self-esteem.

It will condemn another few hundred Oregonians to unemployment.

When it comes to charitable contributions, it will mean that someone in Federal Way, Wash. Ñ where Weyerhaeuser Co., the successful raider, has its headquarters Ñ rather than in Portland will be calling the shots.

Even if Weyerhaeuser maintains the same level of corporate giving as Willamette, there's still cause for concern, says Gregory ChaillŽ, president of the Oregon Community Foundation.

'When giving occurs from afar, it tends to go to the safe things,' he says, 'and it's not done with the same level of sensitivity to local needs.'

ChaillŽ cites some of the early local work connected with youth gangs that won Willamette's support Ñ and made a genuine difference Ñ as an example of the riskier charitable enterprises that may get passed over. Oregon will need such efforts now more than ever, ChaillŽ adds, as we face the challenges of state budget cuts.

But it would be a mistake to interpret the loss of Willamette and other headquarters companies in recent years as a damning statement on this region's economic health. The region may have caught a cold, but moves on the corporate chess board like these don't offer any useful cues on how to cure it.

'This has less to do with Portland's stature as an economy than it does the general trend toward consolidation,' says Joe Cortright, vice president and economist at Impresa Inc.

'Things move around a little based on who takes over whom, but it's really who grows the next generation of companies that is the bigger issue,' he says. And Oregon's most vibrant sector, notwithstanding Fujitsu's loss and the semiconductor downturn,

hasn't turned tail.

Intel, the state's biggest private employer, doesn't have its headquarters in Oregon. But, as

Cortright points out, 'it does its marketing activities from here, it does its technology development from here, it manufactures most of its advanced products here, and it does its venture capital investing from here.

'Except for having the mailing address of the CEO here, most of the functions one associates with a headquarters are here.'

So, we've lost number 368 (Willamette) on the Fortune 500 list to number 122 (Weyerhaeuser), but we still have, for all practical purposes, number 41 (Intel). We haven't lost number 212 (Nike). And we can thank the gods we don't have number 7 (Enron), although we have perhaps its most valuable component (Portland General Electric).