Business, government leaders will prioritize ways to boost economy

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JIM BESEDA  - The Oregon Business Plan wants the natural resources economy increased to help rural communities.State government and business leaders will meet today, Jan. 6, to discuss priorities for improving the economy at the 2015 Oregon Legislature.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is scheduled to give the keynote speech at the 12th annual Leadership Summit set for the Oregon Convention Center. Oregon’s two U.S. senators and legislative leaders also are slated to speak to the group, which will include representatives of dozens of businesses, from established giants like Intel to successful start-ups like Elemental Technologies.

The summit is held each January before the start of the Legislature to review the Oregon Business Plan — the annual blueprint for statewide economic growth prepared by the Oregon Business Council, an association of more than 40 leading businesses. The gathering, which is open to the press, is unique among organizations that advocate for legislation. There are no similar summits for labor, environmental, human services or social justice organizations.

This year’s summit is happening as the economy is continuing to improve. The state has finally replaced all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession, although wages continue to lag. For example, Portland’s median household income is still $4,400 below its pre-recession peak in 2008, according to a new study released last month by the Value of Jobs Coalition, which includes the Portland Business Alliance and the Port of Portland.

The summit also is taking place as some legislators are predicting the upcoming session will be the most partisan in many years. Democrats are likely to use their increased control of the House and Senate to push priorities opposed by many in the business community, including raising the minimum wage and mandating paid sick leave for employees.

The summit’s daylong schedule includes both small sessions on issues like Kitzhaber’s education reform plan and industrial land readiness, along with large gatherings where the presiding officers and party leaders of the 2015 Oregon Legislature will give their previews of the upcoming session.

The goals of the plan are unchanged from last year — creating more jobs, raising incomes, and reducing poverty. This year’s priorities are:

• Connecting education and training to skilled, well-paying jobs that are going unfilled.

• Strengthening rural economies by focusing on growing the natural resources industries, including wood and agricultural products.

• Investing in critical infrastructure that allows communities and businesses to connect to markets, including high-impact projects that can make a difference across the state. (See related story on a congestion study, Page A3.)

The directors of the Oregon Business Council are CEOs of Oregon-based companies, senior executives of Oregon-based divisions of national companies, and other business leaders who have played significant roles in developing public policy. Scheduled to join them at this year’s summit are owners of small companies, students from innovating schools and their parents, and researchers from leading Oregon universities.

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