State must act today to try to buck the recession

Leaders need to focus on WIN plus pay attention to four key economic strategies

Not since the Oregon Business Plan was launched in the depths of the 2002 recession has the need for immediate and cooperative action among the state's political and business leadership been more urgent.

Once again, this state is suffering from worsening economic pain at the very time that hundreds of participants in the business plan are preparing to discuss how to keep the state's economy moving forward.

Business plan participants are holding their annual leadership summit today, which draws business, elected and community leaders from throughout Oregon, including the governor and other top officeholders.

As these leaders gather at the Oregon Convention Center, they must pay acute attention to the concept of WIN - What's Important Now - and give exclusive focus to those strategies and actions that will deliver timely and direct results to the state's economy.

Here are key areas that need the leadership summit's attention:

n First: Put an immediate focus on job creation and retention.

This focus can come through traditional government-sponsored approaches, such as building and improving roads and municipal infrastructure. And it can be augmented by attracting new, cutting-edge jobs in the private sector.

The announcement Dec. 1 that wind-turbine manufacturer Vestas is planning a major expansion in Portland provides an encouraging example of private-sector activity even as the overall economy is struggling. But public-sector involvement will be critical if the state's citizens are to regain confidence in the economy.

The city of Portland, the metro region and the state must apply this rule to all new initiatives: If it doesn't measurably create new jobs or retain existing jobs, don't do it now.

n Second: Promote a statewide campaign to save resources - including energy and commodities such as paper.

Government agencies, businesses, nonprofit groups and individuals should swiftly enact energy-reduction strategies and then direct those savings to support programs that serve people at risk.

We believe such a strategy will be embraced by a public that appreciates the idea that a bit of pain through conservation will help others in need.

n Third: Don't stop with one summit.

Oregon Business Plan leaders should reconvene a smaller follow-up summit aimed at linking Oregon and its communities to the federal economic stimulus package being created in Washington, D.C.

Participants in this second meeting should include all of Oregon's current and future U.S. representatives, senators, the governor and key business and labor leaders. And the objective must be to build public confidence in efforts to improve Oregon's economy by harnessing federal dollars and put them to immediate use in rebuilding and expanding Oregon's infrastructure.

n Fourth: Adopt a new budget attitude.

The unveiling of the governor's budget proposals Dec. 1 produced predictable whines from the guardians of school budgets and other services. These lobbyists and public officials complained that proposed funding for the next biennium won't protect the service levels of previous years.

But state agencies, school districts, cities and counties also must adopt a new budget attitude of WIN - what's important now. At a time when thousands of Oregonians are losing their jobs, it is no longer appropriate to use past service levels as a basis for future funding requests.

Government agencies at all levels must prioritize what's essential now and leave other, secondary priorities to be funded in 2010 if the economy improves.