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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

And another one gone, and another one gone

Things keep rolling downhill here in the Rose City.

Today our traffic was officially pronounced really bad -- worse than Seattle's. I disagree with that assessment, but who's listening to me? In the livability sweepstakes, it's the national perception that counts.

Meanwhile, the city took another blow. A big employer, Louisiana-Pacific, announced that its headquarters is leaving town.

Now when Gardenburger revealed the other day that it will soon close up the last of its corporate offices here, that was a very bad symbol. But it was a minor blip as far as the number of jobs is concerned. LP, on the other hand, was a bona fide economic force, and the news that its 130 or so highest-paid people are packing up for Nashville is unwelcome indeed.

Portland's seen a real exodus of successful entrepreneurs over the last decade. There are several ways in which that reality can be interpreted. Many of the firms that left were simply so prosperous that they became takeover targets, and they were swallowed up by new parent companies elsewhere in the nation or the world. Fred Meyer, Pacific Power, Portland General Electric, Willamette Industries, First Interstate Bank of Oregon -- all of these and more moved their home bases and their white-collar payrolls after being acquired by out-of-state or out-of-country interests.

But for folks like Gardenburger and Louisiana-Pacific, there's been no takeover. Other cities are simply easier and cheaper places in which to build and operate corporate offices.

What are Oregon and Portland doing wrong? It's not as though we're not throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at economic development. For example, when last I checked, the state economic development department budget was on the order of $460 million for a two-year budget cycle, including about $72 million in federal funds. We pay 143 people in state government alone to work on stimulating economic growth. But I don't think we really know what we're doing. For one thing, we're distributing too much of our public money to the wrong people -- the condo-tower-builders, the airport-expanders, the consultants, the designers, the planners, the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the Fortune 500 continue to file out of Oregon. Nike's the last one left.

[Special Note to Regular Readers: The remainder of this post consists of my usual rant. If you're familiar with it, feel free to skip the rest of this entry.]

Trolleys, aerial trams, light rail, solar-powered parking meter gizmos, a huge convention center, reservoir covers, a monstrous glass canopy over the airport dropoff, reunited North and South Park Blocks -- they're all nice. But decent schools; a working mental health system that limits one's street contacts with deranged folks to, say, two or three a day; police stations open at night; and living-wage jobs with a future, are much nicer. And around here many of the nicer things are getting as scarce as hen's teeth.

I don't know how many tax dollars we would have had to throw at LP to get them to stay. But I'm sure I could cobble it together out of the City Hall/State Capitol Useless Toy Budgets.

Comments (8)

I can’t help but feel that Portland and its most vocal residents are happy about this.

I mean Portlanders HATE (and I mean HATE) corporations. What the vocal part of Portland is concerned about is doing some drugs and rioting (I am sorry I meant “protesting”) in the streets on a weekly basis. Last week they protested the reservoir plan (which is totally unneeded, BTW) by “belly dancing to get their message out.” How do they expect anyone to take them seriously?

I assume that the same faulty logic that makes them think that a belly dancing protest will convey a message (beyond that you’re an idiot) will allow them to think that LP leaving is a good thing. After all the people who work for LP aren’t the same type of people that would show up to the weekly protest. And we can claim victory over another soulless corporate entity. Now we’re just one step closer to “nature” with LP gone.

Also the more cynical part of me thinks that the more we can shut down the economy and dry up the tax dollars for schools (or divert them to nanny state activities) the worse the education system will become, the stupider the kids/adults will be and the more likely they will be to believe that belly dancing is a valid form of protest and that LP leaving is good.

It should be noted that PGE did not move its white-collar forces out of Oregon when it was bought by Enron. The engineering staff (which, I imagine, makes up most of the white-collar workforce) stayed. Some of the financial people did indeed move to Houston, but I think we know the end of that story.

I agree with Dev -- Portlanders have a strong distrust of corporate motives and feel that the corporations owe the community something. That indeed may be true, but you can't stop people from voting against you with their feet. The worst part is, these businesses have factored in the costs of moving and *still* found it more profitable. What does that tell you about the Willamette Valley business climate?

That is just baloney. The people these companies would be employing want them just fine; the protesters don't work at corporate jobs, and I suspect the majority of the city population resents the dang protesters for tying up traffic and spending police time/dollars (I know I resent them every stinking Friday night at 5:30 when the weekly protest march bangs the drums outside my office building downtown). Jack's got the right idea: the pols in charge of the city want shiny medals on their chests to brag about to other cities, like the stupid trolley and so forth, none of which actually help businesses to create new jobs.

I sense...bitterness.

I agree, Kris. The clowns running the city, the county and Metro are more interested in shiny new toys they can brag about to their peers at bureaucratic conventions than in spending the money wisely. If I'm not mistaken, Tri-Met's own figures show that total ridership has gone _down_ since Light Rail was introduced (and the more flexible, less costly bus routes were abandoned). But, hey, it looks cool and progressive and looks good on someone's resume.

We all ought to go to a mayoral candidates' forum or two and get up, one after another, saying these things.

... as reported by various news organizations, Portland's traffic situation is worsening (see, e.g., http://www.katu.com/news/story.asp?ID=61124).

Portland's answer, apparently, is more light rail. See: http://www.oregonlive.com/search/index.ssf?/base/editorial/106466471751280.xml?oregonian?edl ("TriMet has drawn up plans that involve placing a new MAX line through the transit mall by 2007, with a direct line running from Portland State University all the way to Milwaukie and Interstate 205 via the Rose Garden and the existing Interstate 84 line.")

I'm certain that this new MAX line will be at least as effective at reducing traffic as the Hillsboro light rail line. We all know how much West-side light rail has reduced traffic levels on the Sunset corridor. (It does, however, make getting to the zoo from downtown a snap).

It does come in handy. Many employees of the Planning Bureau live at the zoo.

Sure, LP is part of the economic foundation of 2003 PDX, but the city is evolving. Compare 1970 depressed Soho and 2003 depressed Nopo. Wait till the modmod artists and nanoprogrammers find NNW Portland in ten years. Perhaps unfortunately, it's not good schools, police, or mental health services that will draw the new scene - it's the HOT CHICKS who ride the TRAM, the MAX and the STREETCAR. Mayor Katz is right-on in subsidizing cutie habitat. Fish is for smart tax professors.


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