For economic health, lets think regionally


Oregonians should not celebrate too loudly a recent report that the Portland-Vancouver, Wash., area has regained almost all of the jobs lost in the recession.

Economists may say the employment numbers are evidence that the regional economy has recovered from the dark days of the recession that began in 2001 and grew worse in 2002. But we know too many employers who remain unsure whether economic stability and prosperity have returned. And too many Oregonians are joining a growing class of citizens Ñ the working poor, who, although gainfully employed, are living in or at the edge of poverty and without workplace benefits.

That's why Monday's release of an economic strategy for the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area is critically important. While economic times are better, the region needs to improve even more.

This is much more than a business issue. Our economy generates the income taxes necessary to pay for the social, educational and public-safety services provided in this state.

Plan has the right priorities

The regional strategy, which will be presented Monday at the annual Oregon Leadership Summit, is modeled after the successful Oregon Business Plan that was launched in 2002. Locally produced by a partnership of business leaders in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Clark (Wash.) counties, the regional business plan takes several important first steps. One such effort was getting folks from Vancouver involved. This is, after all, a single region that competes with other metropolitan areas across the nation and the world for investments and jobs.

The regional plan also was wisely limited in its initial focus, which includes:

• Improved education and work-force training.

• Improved freight mobility.

• Changes in land-use systems and infrastructure investment to better support the economy.

• An improved economic development environment and focus.

Organizers of the regional plan say more strategic initiatives can be added later.

Who owns the economy? Everyone

What is initially not clear in the regional economic development plan is who will take ownership of these initiatives to ensure their outcome. 'For each initiative, we will have an owner, a champion,' says Sandra McDonough, president of the Portland Business Alliance, which developed the plan in partnership with numerous other regional business groups.

We think that these champions need to come from many places. After all, who owns the economy? And who benefits from a healthy, sustained economy? Everyone in the region, that's who.

Looking ahead, a particular challenge will be to implement strategies in a region that includes more than two dozen cities with their own agendas and four unique counties in two states.

But that is no reason for delay. Nor should the appearance of improved economic times serve as a comfort. This region still needs to improve its economic prosperity and stability. That goal can be accomplished by business and civic leaders who are willing to be champions for the region, their communities' needs and the economy.