Oregon has become a poor state. Unemployment is stubbornly high, and the income of an average Oregonian has fallen to 91% of the U.S. Average. This means that the average Oregon worker has about $5000 less to spend each year than the average American, and our state and local governments have about $1.4 billion less in tax revenue to spend each year on schools, police officers and care for the sick and elderly.
At the same time, our state faces unsustainable trends in public spending. Healthcare, pension and prison costs are unaffordable, and are siphoning money away from schools. Oregon has the fourth largest class sizes in the nation, and the country's shortest school year. Reduced investments in education will result in more unemployment and even lower wages.
Oregon is trapped in a vicious cycle. [Read more about Oregon's challenge.]
A Choice of Futures
These trends at home are occuring at the same time as major changes in the global marketplace. Oregon is now competing globally for ideas, companies, and workers.
In order to change course at home, Oregon must confront these global changes head on. We have a choice of two futures.
One path presents an Oregon defined by thriving businesses that lead their industries in ideas, innovation and design, market reach, and staying power. This path heralds a future of well paying jobs that resist migration and sustain local economies and communities. As a result Oregon generates the tax revenues needed to support great public schools, safe and accessible neighborhoods, and a thriving natural environment.
On the other path, Oregon becomes strictly a regional consumer market and a branch-office outpost for industries whose key ideas, research, decisions, innovations, and initiatives occur elsewhere. It becomes a commodity producer whose industries pay average or lower wages and are always vulnerable to cheaper sources of labor and supply elsewhere. In this future Oregon's economy can't generate the tax revenues needed to pay for the public services we want and need.
The stakes could not be higher and the decisions we make today will determine which course we follow.
We're Aiming High
The Oregon Business Plan aims for the high road. We envision the growth and success of leading-edge, innovative companies based in Oregon and selling their products and services across the globe. These companies provide high paying jobs, bring in new revenue that is invested in local suppliers and service providers, and grow Oregon's tax base. We call these companies the "traded sector" because of their unique role selling products and services outside of Oregon, bringing in fresh dollars to our communities.
Traded sector industries tend to "cluster," drawing advantage from their proximity to competitors, to skilled workers, to specialized suppliers and a shared base of sophisticated knowledge about their industry. In the 1970s, Oregon's largest industry cluster was forestry and wood products. Oregonians, urban and rural, and with all levels of education enjoyed high wage jobs in this industry. Today, Oregon has an array of innovative industry clusters, all of which require skilled workers and a competitive business environment. In addition to forestry and wood products these industries include, among others, advanced manufacturing, software, footwear and sports apparel, and clean technology.
Strategy and Initiatives
While the destiny of these industries is in their own hands, it is critical that Oregon's leaders pursue initiatives to create the environment that helps them thrive. The initiatives we recommend and support can improve Oregon's culture of Pioneering innovation, enhance the work skills of Oregon's People, boost the quality of Place that drives talented people and companies to Oregon, and improve the Productivity of Oregon's business environment. Collectively we call these attributes the Four P's for Prosperity.
There are many ways to get involved in our effort. Review our initiatives and provide your feedback using the survey tool at the bottom of each initiative page. Share your perspective on our blog or Facebook page. Follow us on Twitter or Instagram. Participate in the annual Oregon Leadership Summit, the Industry Cluster Network, or regional meetings throughout the year. Or, just send us an email with your thoughts.