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Traded-sector jobs mean better future for our children

My View • We can work to keep the region's economy from falling behind


This month, more than 40,000 Oregon high school students began their senior year — nine months that will fly by faster than they think possible.

Soon they will either enter the workforce or take the next step in their education, preparing for their future careers. That raises questions about the types of jobs available in our region, the income and wage level of those jobs and how those income and wage levels affect not only their quality of life, but our region’s overall prosperity.

The picture isn’t so rosy. Since the late 1990s, we’ve seen a decline in Portland-area wages and income relative to the U.S. average, which means that Portland-area workers are making less than their peers in many other regions.

This lag in wages and incomes is troubling for several reasons:

n We may lose more skilled and productive workers to better-paying regions, thereby hurting our region’s competitive edge.

n Our region and state will likely continue to struggle with budget deficits as lower wages generate less income tax revenue.

n Residents and their families will likely struggle to make ends meet, lowering their quality of life.

Better jobs for youth

A recent report by the Value of Jobs Coalition, however, shows a path forward to higher paying jobs, more dollars for public services and a better quality of life: growing our region’s traded-sector businesses.

The traded sector includes industries and employers that produce goods and services that are consumed outside the region where they are made, bringing new dollars into a region.

By contrast, a region’s local sector includes industries and employers that produce goods and services that are consumed in that region.

Both of these sectors are essential to a region’s economic health. But it is traded-sector jobs that pay higher wages. On average, a Portland-area traded-sector worker earns 42 percent more per year compared to a local-sector worker.

That means a higher quality of life and more resources for schools, parks and social services.

Moreover, traded-sector companies bring new dollars into our region, and that is money spent at restaurants, grocery stores, real estate offices, coffee shops, not to mention banks and law firms.

In other words, a strong traded sector is vital to supporting a strong local-sector economy.

We have a strong base of traded-sector employers in several key industry clusters: Nike, adidas and Columbia Sportswear; Gerding Edlen, CH2M Hill and ZGF Architects; Vestas, PECI and SolarWorld; Intel, Coaxis and Jama Software; and ESCO Corp., PCC Structurals and Vigor Industrial.

All of these employers generate good, family-wage jobs, but if we want our children to have more opportunities, we need to grow these employers, support burgeoning traded-sector entrepreneurs and attract new ones.

More needs to be done. We need to focus our region’s policy work on four key areas: investments in education, trade programs and higher education; modernization of transportation infrastructure that provides ready access to markets; improvements in the market-ready supply of industrial land; and tax structures that encourage investment.

Election season is the perfect time for Portland-area voters to ask candidates how they intend to help boost our traded sector. As you meet with the candidates for mayor, city council and the Legislature, ask them for specifics about what they will do to provide family-wage traded-sector jobs for our students.

By staying focused on the issues that enable traded-sector employers to grow, thrive and add jobs, we will not only have more and higher-paying career options for Oregon high school and college graduates, but a healthier economy and better quality of life. And that’s something that benefits us all.

Dennis Rawlinson is with the law firm Miller Nash and chairman of the Portland Business Alliance. Roger Hinshaw is president of Bank of America for Oregon and Southwest Washington and former chairman of the Portland Business Alliance.