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Focus, perspective will create new jobs

Our Opinion

Portland's City Council took the right steps early this month in its ambitious commitment to create 10,000 new jobs in the city during the next five years.

Step one was the council's adoption in July of an economic strategy to substantially transform Portland's job creation attitudes and approach. The plan calls on the city to not only help grow new businesses, but to also retain existing businesses and train workers.

The plan emphasizes four industry clusters:

• Clean tech and sustainable industries;

• Active wear companies, including firms that design and manufacture outdoor clothing and equipment;

• Software companies;

• Advanced manufacturing firms working with both metals and electronics.

Step two - and we think it's as significant as adopting a job plan itself - was the City Council's acknowledgment that almost unparalleled efforts to improve Portland's quality of life have not resulted in anticipated job growth.

For some time, many economists and regional leaders said that the region's unique natural environment and quality of life would economically propel the city ahead of other metropolitan areas. Along the way, some felt, the city would attract the best and brightest to live and work here.

While Portland has become a magnet for a 'creative class,' that has not created all the jobs we expected.

A study by the Portland Development Commission underscoring that point says that the number of jobs within three miles of downtown decreased about 25 percent from 1996 to 2008. Yet, employment in the region's suburbs increased by almost the same percentage during the same period. Another employment census - this one conducted by the Portland Business Alliance - said that the 83,000 people working in Portland's downtown core is the lowest number since 2002.

Stay focused

The City Council's adoption of an economic strategy won't produce overnight results, especially in this deep and nagging recession. Nor will the city's job creation commitment signal that Portland should turn its back on quality-of-life issues.

But a commitment to 10,000 new jobs gives the council what Portland desperately needs: focus. That also gives Portland leaders another essential commodity to work with: perspective.

Armed with focus and perspective, Mayor Sam Adams and city commissioners should use their time, energy and the city's investments to achieve their job creation commitment.

The city isn't going to do it alone. But the city - if not focused and not invested in the outcome - can actually keep things from happening.

The City Council should measure its own performance, staff performance and policies against this new job creation commitment. While some city matters do not relate to jobs, many others do.

Here's a good example: Yet another study on managing and improving the Willamette River waterfront recommends setting aside 12 percent of industrial property for landscaping or natural purposes. We suggest that natural space enhancement be achieved without taking a substantial portion of the city's working waterfront and industrial/transportation land out of economic productivity. That way the city doesn't lose jobs and businesses to other communities or states.

Change is needed for a city that has often been distracted or kept from important aspirations by its own short attention span.

We want the mayor and city commissioners to be unified and employ focus, follow-through and investment to achieve their commitment to create 10,000 needed new jobs within five years.