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.
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.