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A decade later, job not finished

Oregon must confront a variety of issues, including an inability to pay for new roads and bridges.

It was nine years ago that the Oregon Business Plan and its annual Leadership Summit were conceived. At the time, this state was in the midst of a recession that gave it one of the highest jobless rates in the nation - just over 8 percent.

Earlier this month, when hundreds of business, political, education and labor leaders met at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland for the ninth yearly Leadership Summit, the state's unemployment rate was actually worse - just over 9 percent.

That measurement is an indication not of the futility of the work being done, but rather of its importance. Despite all the initiatives launched over the past nine years, this state has yet to reverse downward economic slide that is affected not only by the global forces but also by factors unique to Oregon.

The backdrop for this year's Leadership Summit was the growing realization that Oregon isn't suffering solely from the nation's economic malaise, but that it trails other states in per capita income and in its ability to finance public services - such as education - that in turn will help the economy.

To reverse these trends, Oregon must confront a variety of issues, including its system of taxation that is over-reliant on personal and corporate incomes, a land-use policy that at times hurts economic development and a continuing inability to pay for new roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

None of these topics are easily addressed - and the main value of the Oregon Business Plan is that it advances the idea that a solid economy is more important than political partisanship, arguments between labor and business and the divide between rural and urban Oregon.

At the Leadership Summit, Gov. John Kitzhaber, Oregon's two U.S. senators and Republican and Democratic leaders of the state legislature joined labor leaders and hundreds of business people to help develop a specific agenda for boosting the state's economy, public finance and livability.

Recent indicators show the Portland-area economy is showing renewed traction, but the business plan acknowledges that Oregon will not succeed unless all of its regions are prosperous. Some of the initiatives that we find most important include:

• Actively managing public forests to improve forest health while also providing logs for rural mills and producing biomass for alternative energy. At present, public forests in Oregon are at severe risk for wildfires and disease unless trees are selectively thinned. Allowing such thinning will improve the health of the forests and the economy.

• Making industrial land ready for new or expanding companies that offer high-wage jobs. Oregon has a shortage of good industrial land, and it must enlarge that inventory if it is to be in the running for wooing the best industries.

• Encouraging innovation in Oregon by investing in research centers and also supporting Treasurer Ted Wheeler's idea of an Oregon Investment Act.

These are just a few of the recommendations from the Oregon Business Plan (find more online at www.oregonbusinessplan.org). For the most part, they are ongoing initiatives or incremental steps toward the ultimate goal of higher incomes, better education and an enhanced quality of life in Oregon.

Like most everyone in this state, we wish Oregon's economy had made more progress in the past nine years. What's needed for a better future outcome is continued collaboration - and a belief that a stronger economy will solve most of Oregon's problems.