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Economy needs our attention right now

Regional elected officials and business leaders should take action in response to local residents' rapidly rising concerns about the economy.

In a recent poll of Portland-area residents conducted by Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall on behalf of Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, 76 percent of respondents said they believe the nation is already in a recession. Worse possibly yet, 61 percent said the region already is in recession, and 41 percent said the Portland-area economy will deteriorate even more in the next two years.

Such numbers are grim and also highly personal.

The poll indicated that 80 percent of local residents are either somewhat worried (55 percent) or very worried (25 percent) about the declining regional economy. Many are making lifestyle changes to offset the recession's impact. For example:

n Sixty-eight percent said rising fuel prices are causing them to drive less.

n Sixty-six percent are bargain shopping more.

n Sixty-seven percent are eating out less.

n And 35 percent are worried or very worried about their ability to pay their mortgage.

Yet, while the public is extremely concerned about the state of the economy, local residents remain confident about the direction of the region (41 percent approval) and their local community (61 percent approval).

Frankly, we find that these last statistics, when compared to the public's concern over the economy, to be a bit perplexing. They should not be taken as a mandate by government, civic or business leaders that the region is doing enough to ensure livable communities and a robust, sustained economy. Local, regional and state policies can have a significant impact on the Oregon and Portland-area economy - even while it is being bruised by national and international trends.

It wasn't too long ago - from 2002 to 2004 - that Gov. Ted Kulongoski helped lead Oregon out of the national recession by emphasizing job creation, identifying land for new jobs, making investments in education and work force training and by investing in needed public infrastructure. Those initiatives were significant, but the most important thing Kulongoski did was to say clearly that the state's economy and employing people in family-wage jobs are essential priorities.

Kulongoski publicly recognized the connection between the economy - which generates tax revenues - and funding for schools, public services and healthy communities.

It's time for that kind of focus and leadership again.

From Kulongoski. From candidates seeking to serve in the Oregon Legislature and on local city councils. From the elected Metro Council that manages regional growth and transportation planning. And from civic and business leaders.

Kulongoski has a bit more than two more years left in office. His legacy can be that he helped lead his state out of two recessions and propelled it forward to economic, environmental and livability success. Metro President David Bragdon will leave office in two years. He can add to his legacy of stewardship by convincing the Metro Council that it cannot have great, livable urban places without also investing in a great urban economy that operates in balance with the environment.

Recessions do occur. Sustained recoveries, however, should not be left to chance or to be addressed in the future by someone else.