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Lets talk about jobs, jobs and more jobs

The region's partners must add a reasonable supply of new industrial land sites to UGB

Take heart Oregon, but don't be satisfied. The state's unemployment rate is finally nearing the national average of 9.1 percent and the number of working Oregonians is gradually rising after job increases in January and February.

The Oregon Employment Department last week announced that Oregon's unemployment rate was 9.3 percent in May. The state's economy added 1,300 non-farm jobs in May and employment has grown by 16,800 jobs since the start of 2011.

But these statistics also show just how far Oregon's economy has to climb before it can provide a job for everyone who wants one. Oregon's unemployment rate in April was the nation's 12th-worst.

Incremental employment increases are hardly an indication of a booming economy and do little to improve the fate of the 179,201 Oregonians who remain unemployed.

Many more people are underemployed in jobs that don't provide the wages or hours that these workers were accustomed to before the recession.

Oregon's rate of economic growth is being slowed, in part, by factors outside the state's control, including high gas prices that depress discretionary spending. Yet, there are steps that Oregon and metro-area leaders can take to improve economic performance in the short and long term.

Gov. John Kitzhaber highlighted two of those measures when he responded to the most recent employment report. Kitzhaber pointed to his so-called 'Cool Schools' initiative, which would allow low-interest loans to retrofit aging K-12 schools with energy-efficient technology.

He also plugged his industrial-lands legislation, which speeds up the permitting process for key industrial sites.

Both measures could help improve the overall economy. But local communities also must take action to help spur economic change, including these measures:

* Regionally, the Metro Council and its local government partners - including Clackamas County - must protect manufacturing-job sites from conversion to other uses or from undue restrictions.

* This fall, these same regional partners must focus on adding a reasonable supply of new industrial land sites to the regional urban growth boundary to ensure that new or existing businesses have a place to locate or grow in the near future.

* Local jurisdictions should consider capping taxes and fees for anything other than existing services until Oregon starts meeting Kitzhaber's job growth goals for six consecutive months.

* Private sector, educational, local government and civic leaders should implement immediate strategies that help employ Oregonians in higher-wage, high-value jobs. Without such focus, we will be a region and an economy that adds new jobs, but whose residents earn far less than people in places such as Denver, Minneapolis or Austin.

These and other policies and practices must be an immediate priority for Oregon's residents and leaders - unless this state wants to be satisfied with a tepid recovery that could prove to be both insufficient and short-lived.