Chamberlain: Jobs are job one.

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Writing in the Oregonian, shortly after deciding against running for mayor, Tom Chamberlain lays out an agenda for Portland's next mayor:

There is a hunger for a candidate who will stand up for working families in Portland. The next mayor needs to understand that while we are a city that prides itself on creating jobs in an emerging green economy, Portland is a major manufacturing city.

Ours is a city (and, really, a region) that makes things: from streetcars to trucks, medical equipment to microchips, solar panels and aviation parts.

The next mayor must understand that our manufactured goods are exported through our port and airport. Those facilities are the conduit that connects products from across the Northwest to markets around the world.

Our mayor must recognize that we are desperately short of the industrial land we need to expand our manufacturing base. Manufacturing jobs are the shortest path to a middle-class lifestyle. Expanding our industrial land supply can and will collide with some of our environmental values.

What do you think? Is Portland's economy a manufacturing economy? And should it be?

We've seen that collision on West Hayden Island. The western portion of Hayden Island is composed of 800 acres of undeveloped land that, for almost 30 years, has been set aside as industrial reserves.

It is the last place on the river where a deep-water port can be developed. But as the Port of Portland moved forward with a proposal to develop the terminal, the Audubon Society suggested the land was needed as a natural area.

Mayor Sam Adams has proposed a compromise that will protect natural areas and develop a port facility. But this conflict may not be resolved before the next mayor takes office.

As much as we all try to find ways to make jobs and the environment work in sync ("green jobs!"), Tom's right that there are times when economic growth and environmental stewardship come into conflict. When that happens, how do we balance those competing priorities? Jobs above all else? Environment above all else? Or someplace in between?

What do you think?

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    I think Portland is, and could be more so, a manufacturing city. We do make things, and with a little vision, and a slight shift in outlook, we could make a lot more over the long term. The opportunities are abroad where many an emerging market is growing at 8-10%. What limits us is not so much industrial land or port facilities (as Chamberlain notes), but the human talents and interests that could connect needs in China, India, Brazil and other emerging markers to manufacturing plants here. We just are not educating any of our workers with the language and culture skills to go to China or India, for examples, and develop business opportunities (from identifying a need through product design).

    Portland Public Schools over the past several years has repeatedly refused to expand either its Mandarin or Japanese immersion programs in spite of parental demand. PPS has also refused to pay for high school students to study abroad, most recently refusing to shift $30,000 for five high school students to spend a high school year abroad. We cannot grow our manufacturing base, given the opportunities in the global economy, with the education system we now have. It’s outdated. It’s shooting us in the foot economically.

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    "Is Portland's economy a manufacturing economy" -- That's the wrong question.

    We should be asking what sort of manufacturing we want to encourage, and how will that fit in with our knowledge and service sectors.

    We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can play more than one note. We can manufacture and do other things as well.

    Also, the word "manufacturing" covers a lot of ground. Do we want to be a steel-making city, in competition with cheaper workforces abroad? Or do we want to be a chip-making city, like Beaverton? Or something else entirely?

    One thing is certain: Cities in the Midwest and the East that have hitched their wagons to old-tech manufacturing have some of the weakest economies in the nation. Detroit comes to mind.

    To focus so intently on an ill-defined concept like manufacturing is to lose sight of other opportunities. We can do better than that.

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    Jobs vs. environment. That's usually a false choice, but if it really is an issue, "environment" should win every time if we take a proper long-term view. Environmental damage is frequently lasting and very expensive to remedy compared to the cost of not letting it happen in the first place. There are a lot of ways to create jobs, both in and out of manufacturing. We should preserve the industrial land we have, but also find ways to use that land a lot more efficiently.

    As for Hayden Island, I doubt there's much future in trying to keep this region as a major player in oceanic commerce. A "deep-water port" in the 21st century will eventually require a channel at least 50 feet deep to handle the largest container ships. The current channel is 43 feet deep. That's not even deep enough for today's larger ships, and we spent over $200 million over the last decade to deepen it from 40 feet. What will it take to get a 50 foot+ channel? Another billion?

    Given that container ships will likely keep getting bigger, I think that trying to chase the dream of a permanently competitive "deep-water port" in Portland is futile when we're a hundred miles inland and our competitors -- Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles-Long Beach -- are right on the ocean.

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    This report certainly seems to justify manufacturing in Oregon:

    Also, as the economic development director for Crook County, I can testify that an ample supply of industrial land is imperative to job creation. Having worked with many site selectors and companies (especially in the data center world), you discover quickly the importance of having several options for size and location. Communities with fewer options (Bend fits into that mold right now) have a more difficult time with recruitment efforts, and even helping existing firms expand if they can't find appropriate parcels.

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    My dream is that Portland become the manufacturing center for PBR beer, single speed bikes without brakes, thick rimmed glasses, tight jeans, and those little round hats. In 200 years when the Chinese and Indian economies begin to collapse, their billions of 20 and 30 year olds can sit around and act cool and smoke European cigarettes and buy authentic Portland hipster products. Invest now!

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