COURTESY: PBA - Mitch Hornecker, Portland Business Alliance President and executive vice president and chief legal officer, West Region, at Howard S. Wright Balfour Beatty Construction.

At the Portland Business Alliance one of the most important things we advocate for is our region’s need to grow and maintain quality family-wage jobs.

Given the rapidly rising cost of living in our urban areas, a good job may not just be a source of dignity but a lifeline out of poverty.

So, as the current topic of Oregon’s minimum wage heats up, we feel it’s important to keep several things in mind as you consider the arguments for and against raising Oregon’s minimum wage.

First, we must look critically at what we can do to truly offer working families not just a path out of poverty, but also a chance for prosperity.

Second, increasing the minimum wage is not a silver bullet and does not create family-wage jobs, which are essential to family prosperity.

Third, we must be thoughtful to ensure that our approach provides individuals with real wage improvement while avoiding unintended job losses, benefits reductions and cost shifts that could harm the very same individuals.

Finally, we must consider and account for regional cost differences and unique business sectors.

Because of the obvious complexity of these issues, we believe that the Oregon Legislature is the best forum for thoughtfully and carefully working through these issues, and legislators will have that opportunity in February 2016.

We encourage Governor Kate Brown and the legislative leadership to take on this issue, to keep the varying needs of the entire state in mind and to come up with a plan that works for all of Oregon.

Right now state law prevents local governments from adopting different wage rates — this is called a “state preemption.” There are those who argue that preemption should be eliminated so cities can set their own minimum wage. We don’t agree.

The Portland-metro area is one business and labor market that operates without respect to city boundaries.

People live in Portland and work in neighboring cities, and vice versa. Businesses routinely service or supply customers in many cities throughout the region.

Should workers for the same company get paid different wages because they are dispatched to jobs in different parts of the region? Should a Portlander working in Milwaukie get a lower minimum than his neighbor who works in Portland?

Lifting state preemption doesn’t solve these complex issues, rather, we believe, it will guarantee inconsistent rules for businesses and inequities for workers.

That said, it is fair to question whether Klamath Falls should have the same minimum wage as Portland-metro.

There are real cost-of-living differences across our state that should be considered, and the Governor and Legislature are best positioned to sort through those regional differences and come up with a framework that will work for all of Oregon.

Yet, while the discussion around minimum wage is important to have, the truth remains we should not be settling for the “minimum.”

If we want Oregon families to thrive — to be able to pay their bills, purchase a home and send their kids to college — we should be focused on growing better-paying jobs, including those critical middle-income jobs that have declined at an alarming rate over recent years.

According to the Alliance’s Value of Jobs reports, the Portland area has experienced a 30-year decline in the number of middle-income jobs as a percentage of our overall workforce.

Add that to stagnant wage growth for low- and middle-income workers in a time of rising costs, and we have a real problem that cannot be solved by raising the minimum wage for our lowest paid workers.

Without a healthy supply of middle-wage jobs in areas like manufacturing, technology and health care, there will be few opportunities for minimum wage workers to advance to a family wage job.

The Alliance is committed to being part of a constructive dialogue around the minimum wage.

We hope to engage in that dialogue at the Legislature where we can maintain preemption in order to establish a rational statewide policy that recognizes regional economic realities.

We will be thrilled if this conversation leads to a greater awareness of and more support for the employers all over Oregon that are generating more middle-income family wage jobs that our minimum wage workers can advance into.

That is how we can all help more Oregon families prosper.

Mitch Hornecker is executive vice president and chief legal officer, West Region, at Howard S. Wright Balfour Beatty Construction. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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