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Clackamas County must invest for a strong future

Clackamas County is at a crucial crossroads. In the wake of SoloPower's decision to locate its manufacturing facility in Portland rather than Wilsonville, we have an opportunity to redefine how the county attracts new businesses. The voters' rejection of funding measures to replace the Sellwood Bridge, improve Clackamas Community College and protect two weeks of school in Oregon City sent a message: Voters are financially stressed. People are concerned about government spending. We need to listen to that message and work together to find a way to invest wisely in the future, so that our community is prepared to prosper in a competitive world.

Americans have always recognized that public investment is necessary to build a strong economy. In the 1850s, government gave the railroads public land as an incentive to create the transcontinental railroads. A hundred years later, government built the interstate highway system. State and local governments create roads, sewer lines and schools. Government provides the infrastructure businesses desire and demand to locate in an area. That is the essential work of government, and it will continue.

It is a reality today that communities must compete for the best new businesses and the jobs that come with them. In many cases, competition takes the form of public investment and incentives. If our community can attract strong businesses that provide good jobs to our residents, the investment pays off for all of us. But governments need to be wise investors, considerate of the current public mood. Governments need to tailor the use of incentive programs to balance the needs of business and the concerns of community partners, such as schools and fire districts. Governments need to size investments right, maintain a skeptic's look at the bottom line and be sure to get a sound return.

To move forward in strength, the private and public sector must work together. Our community's recent effort to attract SoloPower to Wilsonville demonstrates the potential power of such teamwork.

In pursuit of the SoloPower deal, we organized a broad coalition of supporters. This group included the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Commission, the Clackamas County Business Alliance, the private building trades, the Workforce Investment Council of Clackamas County, public unions, the conservation community, Business Oregon, and city and county elected officials. In the end, SoloPower chose to locate in Portland, and that was a win for the region. However, the fact that many community partners came together quickly with a unified message to support the deal was a win for Clackamas County. It was a sign of better things to come.

On Thursday, Clackamas County hosted an Economic Development Summit to discuss tools we can use to attract new businesses. We talked about creating a rapid development team to court business prospects. This is part of a larger, necessary conversation about how our private and public sectors can work together to create a prosperous future.

Clackamas County is ready to make crucial investments for the future in a way the community will support. We need teamwork to be successful. There will be other opportunities, and we will be ready for them.

Ann Lininger is a Clackamas County Commissioner.