City, port bank on ambitious export plan
'Green economy' head start could open new global markets
Despite his recurring cameo on 'Portlandia,' Mayor Sam Adams says the city's image as the Bohemian Capital of America is not enough to make the economy thrive.
'We can't make it on selling lattes, beer and great food to one another,' Adams told the monthly Portland Business Alliance breakfast meeting Wednesday morning.
On the Independent Film Channel series, Adams plays the chief of staff to the comedy show's mayor, portrayed by actor Kyle McLachlan. Adams' role usually involves him watching in growing apprehension as McLachlan enlists series stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in one harebrained scheme or another to promote the city.
On Wednesday morning, Adams joined with a Who's Who of the Portland business community to endorse an ambitious plan to double regional exports during the next five years - jumping from $21 billion worth of exports in 2011 to $42 billion by 2016.
'The quality of life here is a good foundation, but it is insufficient for Portland to compete successful in the global economy,' Adams said.
The Greater Portland Export Plan unveiled at the meeting was prepared during the past nine months with the help of the Brookings Institution, a national policy think tank. Amy Liu, a Brookings senior fellow and co-director of the institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, told the business leaders that Portland was well-positioned to double to meet the plan's ambitious goal.
Among other things, Liu said Portland was one of only four metropolitan regions to double its exports during the past decade, in part because public agencies and private businesses worked together to target growth opportunities and overcome such obstacles as poor access to Port of Portland facilities.
'You are already showing more leadership than most other regions,' Liu said.
A clean economy
Others participating in the drafting of the plan included the city, the Portland Business Alliance, Metro, the Portland Development Commission, the Port of Portland and Greater Portland Inc., a public-private partnership created to promote the region.
Greater Portland Chief Executive Officer Sean Robbins said his organization will play a 'quarterback' role in the plan, beginning with formation of a public-private export council to oversee it. Major themes include encouraging small businesses to begin or increase exporting goods and services.
According to figures generated by the Brookings Institution, regional semiconductor companies such as Intel and TriQuint account for nearly 60 percent of all Oregon exports. Liu said the region's reputation for sustainable development presents an opportunity to increase the export of consulting services to growing metropolitan regions around the world.
Liu said the percentage of people living in urban areas is projected to grow from 50 percent today to 70 percent by 2050. Many of those people are demanding the quality of life found in the Portland area, including clean air, clean water, open spaces and walkable neighborhoods, Liu told business leaders.
'The clean economy is not a fad. It is expected to triple to $2.2 billion a year by 2020,' Liu said.
Promoting a message
Portland already has been trying to capitalize on this trend with a branding effort called 'We Build Green Cities.' It includes a website with an online video boasting that Portland has earned the nickname Green City by bringing nature back into the city during the past 40 years.
'How we live in cities is one of the biggest challenges we face. Portland is a leader in imaging the future of cities and we have created a high-growth, low-carbon city,' according to the website's introduction.
Some public education may be required to convince Portlanders that increasing exports benefits the region, however. While drafting the Portland Plan, the city's Planning and Sustainability Commission heard from residents who said exports did little more than ship resources out of the state. Commission Chairman Don Hanson, a principal at the Otak civil engineering firm, responded that exports benefit the region by attracting dollars from around the world. He recommended that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which drafted the long-range strategic plan for City Council approval, promote the message that exports help the local economy.
Also during Wednesday's meeting, TriQuint Chief Financial Officer Steve Buhaly and Peter Perez, the deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing of the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, both praised the focus on doubling regional trade as a good step for improving the economy.
Liu opened the meeting with slides showing that the recession that officially ended in 2009 was not only deep, but also fundamentally different than previous economic downturns. She argued that it was a 'structural recession' hitting America especially hard because the country had switched its economy from producing goods to one driven by consumers. When the recession hit, those countries with the largest export economies felt the impact a little less, she said. They included China, India and much of South America, where pre-recession growth levels are again the norm.
Liu said America must take advantage of the growing number of middle-class consumers in these countries to fully recover from the recession.
'That assumes you have a high-end, high-value product that the world wants to buy,' Liu said.
Adams said Portland was ready to meet the challenge.
'There's a lot of manufacturing know-how in Portland,' Adams said. 'If you have an innovative idea, you can get it made here. But too much of it only happens here or is only sold here.'