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Even local business boosters should welcome large employers

Portland-area residents seem to have a definite preference for small businesses instead of big corporations.

They also would rather see this region spend its money on maintaining existing roads and bridges, rather than expanding urban growth around the metro area’s edges.

As a community newspaper, we too, are fiercely local. As a small business, we understand that operations our size (10 employees and an unpaid office dog) provide most of the jobs in western Washington County.

But we also wonder whether this region can attain the economic progress it desires without thinking bigger — in terms of both businesses and infrastructure investments.

Funding the fundamentals

The most recent Metro Opt In survey shows little support for big dreams. As reporter Jim Redden notes in this week’s page 1 article, of 3,319 people who responded to the survey, only 14 percent named “attracting large corporations to the region” as their top economic development strategy. By contrast, 30 percent said the best thing the region can do to create jobs is to maintain existing roads, bridges, pipes and other infrastructure, while 27 percent like the idea of providing tax incentives and loans to small businesses.

When it comes to notions such as reducing regulations and expanding the urban growth boundary, only a small percentage of people said those were important.

As we noted above, we understand the importance of small, local businesses. But it’s impossible to ignore the impact of the county’s largest employer.

Intel has more than 17,000 employees in Oregon, including more than 2,000 in western Washington County. (Nearly 1 in 10 Banks residents draws a paycheck from the high-tech titan down the road.) The company spends millions of dollars from smaller businesses located around its campuses and last year donated $6.8 million to non-profits and educational initiatiatives.

The problem is there aren’t enough Intels in Oregon.

Portland has slipped behind other regions in per-capita income in part because, outside of Intel, it doesn’t have the big anchor employers that are found in Seattle and other peer cities. Within the Portland area, the most economically successful county — Washington County — also happens to be the one that’s invested heavily in roads and worked the hardest to attract large corporations.

The Opt In survey results, however, show that local residents are most interested in basic services.

That’s understandable, but if you take such attitudes to the extreme the region may have to ask whether it wants another Intel, another Nike, another SolarWorld, Viasystems or Genentech.

Did anyone ask you?

One possible lesson from the Opt In survey, which was conducted by DHM Research, is that regional leaders need to do a better job of explaining to the public why it’s important to attract large companies that in turn help balance the economy. Those companies won’t choose the Portland region unless it has an adequate supply of land and up-to-date infrastructure. This has been apparent in western Washington County, where city officials in both Forest Grove and Cornelius have had to fight for the ability to create new industrial sites.

The Opt In survey also shows that attitudes can vary significantly depending on where a person lives within the region. The current Opt In panel is heavily weighted toward residents of Portland proper, which means the results of these surveys could change as more suburban residents decide to “opt in.”

The ongoing Opt In survey isn’t just an exercise in gathering public opinions. It serves as an important guide for the Metro Council as it makes far-reaching decisions about transportation, land use and other regional issues.

People often say that no one asks their opinion before public decisions are made. In this case, residents only have to follow this link (optinpanel.org) to know that they are contributing to the regional conversation. An Opt In panel that’s more representative of the entire region may or may not change Metro’s priorities, but at least it will give regional decision makers a firm sense of what the public truly believes.

That’s why we encourage all our readers to take a few minutes and join this important effort. Whether you agree with the survey’s conclusions or strongly disagree, you cannot influence the outcome unless you participate.



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