According to Washington County Chair Andy Duyck, Nike was the "elephant in the room" during his upbeat third annual State of the County address Wednesday morning.
And there were some signs at the address that the company might make the county's future even brighter.
For the fifth year in a row, the address was delivered to the Westside Economic Alliance at the Tiger Wood Conference Center on the Nike World Campus just outside of Beaverton. Duyck had a lot of good economic news to share with the capacity crowd more than 250,000 adults are currently working in the county, the highest number since June 2008, the beginning of the Great Recession.
"Better still, this job growth has been occurring in nearly all sectors, creating new job opportunities for people of all skill levels and career interests," Duyck said to the members of the WEA, a public-private organization that pushes for job growth in Washington and western Clackamas counties.
According to Duyck, the county is leading the economic recovery in the state. He noted that unemployment in the county is consistently three-fourths to a full percent lower than the national average and that of Multnomah and Clackamas counties. In January, the U.S. Bureau of labor Statics reported that average weekly wages in Washington County were growing fastest of the nation's 328 largest counties.
"We're doing our part to help end this recession," Duyck told the audience that included representatives of large, medium and small businesses, including Nike, Intel and Kaiser Permanente, which is opening a new hospital in Hillsboro in August.
The news could be even better for the county in the near future. Nike is expected to announce plans to expand its headquarters soon, and an area the company already owns next to its campus is thought to be under consideration.
Duyck brought up the question of where Nike will expand early in his address, calling it "the elephant in the room." Duyck did not speculate on where the expansion will occur, saying Nike will make the decision in a time frame that meets its needs. But he praised Nike as a "world class company [that] still chooses to live in Oregon and employ 8,000 of our neighbors."
Julie Brim-Edwards, Nike's senior director of government and public affairs, gave Duyck and the others in the room reason to hope when she introduced him, however. She praised the county's elected leaders for creating a "hospitable atmosphere for business" by approving programs that encourage them to locate and expand there. She also praised Beaverton for being "nimble" when it comes to economic development, saying the company appreciates it.
Much of the rest of Duyck's speech was a rundown of progress being made on big projects it has undertaking, such as moving to tap the Willamette River near Wilsonville as a secondary source of water and working with the Oregon Health Plan to reduce health cost increases.
The only new initiative Duyck discussed is a partnership between the county's Department of Housing Services and the the nonprofit Vision Action Network to help end homelessness. The two agencies will study how much money is being spent by various public and nonprofit agencies to help the homeless in the county, and whether that money can be diverted to prevent at least some people from becoming homeless in the first place.
"Based on the experience of other studies across America, this research is expected to produce strong evidence that our current system of helping individuals after they are chronically homeless costs more than providing them housing and support to prevent it on the first place," Duyck said.