by: TRIBUNE PHOTO CHASE ALLGOOD - Nike was the 'elephant in the room' during Washington County Chair Andy Duyck's third annual State of the County address last Thursday.Nike spent mixed signals about where it plans to expand in Oregon last week.

Nike officials met with members of the Portland City Council at City Hall throughout the week. The officials included Julie Brim-Edwards, Nike's senior director of government and public affairs.

None of the council members would talk about the topic of the discussions because the city has signed a non-disclosure agreement with Nike. But it’s no secret that Nike is considering expanding in Portland, possibly in the South Waterfront area.

In fact, Mayor Charlie Hales quietly visited the company’s headquarters in Beaverton on Jan. 15, just two weeks after taking office.

But last Thursday, Brim-Edwards also praised Washington County and Beaverton officials for being business-friendly. She made her comments while introducing Washington County Chair Andy Duyck at his third annual State of the County address. And it’s also no secret that Nike is also considering expanding near its World Headquarters campus just outside of Beaverton, where the address was held.

Among other things, Brim-Edwards said Washington County officials have created a "hospitable atmosphere for business" by approving programs that encourage them to locate and expand there. And she credited Beaverton for being "nimble" when it comes to economic development, saying the company appreciates it.

Specifically, Brim-Edwards mentioned Urban Renewal Area and Enterprise Zones as programs created to encourage economic development. Beaverton has created both near Nike’s campus. Portland has created an Enterprise Zone in South Waterfront.

Nike officials say they have not yet decided where to expand or when they will announce their decision. But during his address, Duyck admitted the expansion was the “elephant in the room.” He also praised Nike as a "world class company [that] still chooses to live in Oregon and employ 8,000 of our neighbors."

Speculation about where Nike will expand began during the special session of the Oregon Legislature held last December. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber called the session to approve legislation to assure Nike expands it the state. It authorized him to enter into a contract with Nike to guarantee the company’s current state tax structure provided it invests at least $150 million in Oregon to create 500 or more jobs.

Nike officials had pushed for the legislation, saying the company needs to expand its headquarters and is being courted by other states. Nike is currently one of only two Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Oregon. The Legislature agreed with Kitzhaber and approved the legislation.

Duyck’s speech was delivered to the Westside Economic Alliance at the Tiger Woods Conference Center on the Nike campus. 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.

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.

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