From the Albany Democrat Herald November 17, 2010.  Steve Lathrop

Business and education leaders from throughout Linn, Benton and Lane counties seemed to agree that difficult times lay ahead for the mid-valley and all of Oregon before any headway toward an economic recovery can be made.

Linn-Benton Community College hosted an Oregon Business Plan forum Wednesday afternoon, which included presentations from local leaders.  OBP, a coalition of businesses, business organizations and chambers of commerce from throughout the state, has been hosting meetings throughout the year in hopes of providing a workable agenda to create jobs.

“The goal is quality jobs for all Oregonians,” said Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council.

Getting that accomplished will require a more business-friendly atmosphere and some major problem solving, according to most speakers. Regulatory reform, funding sources, identifying trends and cultivating the area’s economic strengths were key elements touched upon by forum participants during various discussions.

“We’re the largest producer of nuclear reactor zirconium sponge in the world and we want to expand as suppliers to the military and aerospace industries,” said Jim Denham, public affairs director for ATI Wah Chang. “But that future can’t be met unless we can control our cost structure.”

Denham, speaking as part of a three-person panel, said wage and benefit packages are the largest cost to the company. He noted that minimizing the shift of health care costs to employees is a critical part of remaining competitive.

Larry Mullins, CEO of Samaritan Health Services, said policy often doesn’t match up to reality. He pointed to regulatory and legal issues that hold back growth.

“The health industry is not recession proof but it is recession resilient,” he said. “We suffered the consequences of layoffs and unemployment within the community but we can reach across multiple sectors as a regional provider to drive economic growth.”

The three-hour program also included an overview of the regional economy from Pam Silbernagel of the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments and Will Summers of the Oregon Employment Department.

They pointed out that the region is trying to recover from a downturn in the traditional natural resources economic base and the loss of major employers such as International Paper.

All of the participants seemed to agree that education will play a significant roll in economic recovery through research and creating a qualified workforce.

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