Let Genentechs move be a start
A decision by Genentech Inc., arguably the world's leader in biotechnology, to locate in the Portland area can be viewed as either a satisfying bite of a relatively small meal or as an appetizer for what's to come.
The difference will be determined by how metropolitan area government, education and business leaders respond to a major new opportunity Ñ and by how well they react to imminent needs.
The opportunity is biotechnology. Genentech's decision to build a $250 million plant in Hillsboro after considering sites in five nations and four U.S. states is ample response to the naysayers who have argued that Oregon is wasting its time trying to play with the big boys on the biotech court.
Oregon can compete and win its fair share. And even though Genentech will initially build a packaging plant employing 200 to 300 employees Ñ not a drug-manufacturing facility Ñ its decision is a signal to Oregon residents and the world that this state is a good place for biotechnology and a good place to grow.
Have any doubts? Genentech bought close to 114 acres in Hillsboro and initially plans to use only 36 acres. We suspect expansion and the location of other biotech firms will follow.
Such outcomes remind us of Intel Corp., which during its 30 years in Oregon started small in Aloha and grew to make its operations here No. 1 in the world in research, design and wafer fabrication Ñ and a magnet for other high-tech firms' investment here.
But at the same time that we herald Genentech's decision, the region's ability to accommodate the future and provide for a diverse, sustainable economy and stable communities is shaky at best.
With half of Hillsboro's Shute Road site soon to be occupied by Genentech, the west side has but a handful of immediately available large industrial tracts. Other industrial and job sites are due to be brought into the urban growth boundary, but to be attractive to employers they first must be planned and provided with roads, power, sewer and water infrastructure.
Some land still is available in east Multnomah County and for lease by the Port of Portland. But the region doesn't have the variety or number of industrial sites necessary to be a serious economic player.
Efforts by the state and the Portland area to succeed economically in the future will require more than just land and available public and utility services. Oregon employers looking to expand here and outside firms considering moving here also are demanding an available, well-trained and abundant work force.
Oregon used to be a leader in this area. Sadly, we no longer are. Immediate investments in higher education and work force training are critically important and must be elevated as part of the strategies for our economy and communities.
To excel in the future, leaders in regional and state government, the business community and educational leaders must elevate Oregon and the region's priority and commitment to education and work force training. Without doing so, decisions like the one made by Genentech will be few and far between.