Adams pitches economic proposals in SE Portland session

What did Mayor-elect Sam Adams have to say about Portland’s economic outlook, at this meeting with businesspeople held east of the Willamette River? And what did they tell him? Learn all about it, and why it drew business people from all over East Portland, right here …

Before the meeting, Sam Adams listens to comments by John Perkins of the Hollywood Boosters.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Although it was a dreary fall morning, about 80 business people from all over Portland filtered into the Portland Community College Central Portland Workforce Training Center in Inner SE Portland early on November 7 for a “conversation” with Mayor-elect Sam Adams regarding the region’s economic outlook, and the Economic Stimulus Package being prepared by the City.

President of the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations (APNBA), Jean Baker of the Division/Clinton Business Association, introduces the program.

Debbie Kitchin, with the Portland Small Business Alliance, introduces Mayor-elect Sam Adams.

Adams told the group he accepts the fact that the nation is in a depression, and thanked business leaders for gathering to talk about key issues.

“Portland city government is going to be cutting its budget,” Adams announced. “We face a shortfall created by reduced revenue and increased costs.” He said that his eleven years as Chief-of-Staff for former Mayor Vera Katz familiarized him with the process. “This is an exercise with which I have some experience.”

Portland Mayor-elect Sam Adams welcomes businesspeople to a conversation about improving Portland’s business climate.

Seeks to define prosperity
Adams decried the lack of interest in creating a durable economic plan for the City, telling how he’s sought to define economic success among all sectors of business and society.

“I think that we suffer mightily as a region, and as a community, when key partnership groups do not agree on what we mean by ‘business success’, and by what we mean by ‘personal and family prosperity’. Lacking that agreement means you get rather muddled economic development efforts.”

Mayor-elect Adams describes the current state of Portland’s economic condition.

Challenges faced in the business community
While the region has fared quite well in comparison to other areas so far, Adams said that, in the recent past, 26,000 living-wage jobs went unfilled. “Yet, we have 84 agencies in the region and spend $125 million a year to educate and train folks. That’s fairly mismatched.”

The Mayor-elect pointed out that the City of Portland has revised its licensing fee structure, shifting some of the burden from small businesses to large firms, grossing more than $20 Million annually, which pay only $100 each year. He also announced the City is streamlining the license fee system, eliminating estimates, and going to an after-the-fact tax. “I’m apologizing to all of the accountants who will lose business from the simplification.”

Decries rampant poverty-level wages
While there is nothing wrong with service-wage jobs, Adams continued, he stated that 21% of Portlanders earn poverty-level wages – earning less than what is necessary to provide for their basic necessities. “Compared to the 9% who earn low wages in Seattle, we’re in lot more vulnerable a position.”

Speaking of his personal background, Adams said he is the son of a single mother who “got by on subsidized housing and government support. I came from a family who couldn’t always get a good job. So, although I have never owned or run a business, we come to similar points of passions from different paths.”

Nearly 100 businesspeople came to Inner SE Portland to hear about the City Council’s plans, and to give their own ideas for economic improvement.

Looks to better educational system
Adams said, as Mayor, a primary focus for him will be improving education. “47% of our eighth-graders do not graduate from high school. 47% of our eighth-graders drop out before they finish high school on a standard-length timeline. It’s no wonder we have a high percentage of people working at poverty wages.

“If you look at the data for our region, you’ll see they we’re a highly educated city, but we’re ‘importing’ most of the talent who work at high-end jobs.”

Working on an economic stimulus package
Being the Mayor-elect of just one city in the world economy, Adams said he had no illusions about our ability to change global economic trends.

“I’ve always wanted to have city government positioned to be less self-absorbed about the impact of a recession on its functions; and more externally focused [on] helping our businesses and workers through tough times.”

While Adams suggested that the term “stimulus package” has become tarnished because of current federal programs, he announced that the Portland City Council is developing a program to aid Portland businesses. “I’d like to see city government to be proactive, trying to locally forestall the worst impacts of a national recession. There are things that we can do to make things better on the local level.”

Specifically, Adams said they’ve requested funds for economic revitalization from the federal government. “We wanted to be first in line, so we submitted our request two weeks ago.”

Also, he said the City is “moving up” construction project start dates for which money has already been earmarked. “Say a project is three years out. Construction inflation is running 7% to 8%. We save money by beating inflation; and, because the construction industry is down right now, we’re getting more competitive prices for our projects.”

Other programs include fast-tracking housing projects, expanding the city’s property tax investment program, and a 12-point small business and start-up business program.

Adams listens to comments during the morning’s conversation.

Business leaders comment
Businesspeople at the meeting praised Adams for his past and present efforts – yet at the same time took the city to task on a variety of issues.

The praise was offered by past-President of the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations (APNBA) Patrick Donaldson, who summarized the positive sentiments expressed by many at the forum: “You [Sam Adams] have under-promised and over-delivered. You are the voice of small business on the Portland City Council.”

But Donaldson warned that fees, fines, and permit costs can “whipsaw” small business owners into closing. He suggested the City carefully use incentive plans. “We’d all like to pay employees a good living wage. At the same time, remember that business owners themselves are struggling to earn a living wage and gain benefits for their own families.”

Adams listens to complaints and suggestions about the City’s management.

Complaints and suggestions aired
Answering a complaint regarding System Development Charges (SDC), used to pay for infrastructure improvements in conjunction with new development, Adams responded that Portland’s SDCs rank in the lower third nationally, and have not been increased.

Dan Yates commented, “I’d love to see the Portland Development Commission get out of the housing business. It’s supposed to be an economic development agency.”

Tony Fuentes suggested that a micro-loan program would help spur local growth. He also suggested creating a local “manufacturing brokerage program” that would help local manufacturers more easily connect with area suppliers.

School improvement suggestions
Returning to the City’s high-school drop out rate, Adams suggested businesses find ways to hire interns and provide summer jobs. “When I worked as a dishwasher, I realized I wanted to get better educated.”

The historic Mississippi Business District’s Bryan Steelman told of their youth employment program, funded by businesses, in which ten youths from charter schools worked summer jobs and paid internships.

Amy Salvador and Wayne Stoll, of Century Associates and the Parkrose Business Association, listen intently to the plan Adams outlines.

Wayne Stoll challenged other business districts to match what they do in Parkrose – giving five $1,000 sponsorships to seniors graduating high school.

Promises to keep citizens informed
In conclusion, Adams promised that on November 19 the Portland City Council would be announcing a detailed plan for boosting the City’s economy.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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