Blumenauer sets up ‘business listening post’ in East Portland

See why representatives from neighborhood business districts throughout outer East Portland came together to have lunch, while getting unfettered access to US Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s ear …

US Congressman Earl Blumenauer tries a slice of Pizza Baron pie, before beginning his listening session.

Saying they couldn’t remember the last time a sitting US Congressman asked to spend time with outer East Portland businesspeople, representatives from businesses came to a conversation hosted by the Midway Business Association at the Pizza Baron Restaurant on October 10 to meet with US Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D), representing the 3rd District of Oregon.

“I’m here today is part of a series of conversations that I’m having in East Portland, an area that I grew up in,” Blumenauer told East Portland News, as he picked up a couple slices of pizza from the buffet table. “I went to Centennial High School, and to the old Lynch Grade School.”

Specifically, Blumenauer told us, “We’re having an opportunity to hear, first hand, from businesspeople. I’m hoping that people will share, from their perspective, how [the federal government] is working, as well as issues of concern right here.”

Without comment – but he was taking notes – Blumenauer listened to the self-introductions and brief comments. Here’s a summary of some of the issues presented:

David Edwards, VP with Midway Business Association, expressed concerns about “explosive growth in the area”, including large developments of high density, lower-income housing.

Lee Powell from Powell Farmers Insurance, and President of the Gateway Area Business Association, says more medical-industry jobs would help the area.

Gateway Area Business Association’s President, Lee Powell, said he was concerned about the cost of Medicaid and Medicare – and locally, how it would be good to focus on helping the Gateway area become a “medical Mecca” providing lots of “green” jobs.

The Chair of the East Portland Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, Debra Hega, was hoping there could be some help for the City of Maywood Park to deal with putting in sewers. She told how she was also working to promote safe and viable bikeways in the proposed “Gateway Green” project.

Mary Ann Gray, of Westside Secretarial, said her clients express concern that the federal “jobs bills” don’t get jobs down to the local level. “At one project, there were 17 people involved in putting down crosswalk marking strips – two were working, and 15 were supervising. We need small business to get some of those opportunities.”

Congressman Blumenauer listens, as East Portland businesspeople express their concerns.

Midway Business Association’s President Bill Dayton, of Pizza Baron, commented, “Since outer East Portland was annexed into the City of Portland, we haven’t gained much. We need more police officers, and better-funded public safety programs.”

Representing the Foster Area Business Association and the 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association, Nancy Chapin of TSG decried a lack of education funding. “Few high schools focus on helping kids get able to have a job out of school. Not all kids go to college; we need something other than turning high school graduates out onto the street.”

Calling for improvements to outer SE Powell Boulevard, a State highway, was Lori Boisen, whose business is Advertise in the Bag. “Is there any federal money available?”

Mark White, Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association’s President, pointed out that their neighborhood holds about 5% of the City’s entire population – “But, up to 70% of our school district’s students qualify for reduced or free lunch program. This kind of poverty directly and negatively impacts the entire community. Yet, we have almost no voice.”

We ourselves voiced the opinion that “uncertainty” in terms of regulations, taxes, and programs, “reduces the likelihood for people to invest in ‘small business’, which is often called the ‘engine of our economy’.”

Blumenauer responded, “Your [business’s] customers are firefighters, police, teachers – so, those involved in providing government services are ‘real’ jobs. No one became a billionaire without relying on government.”

Subtle pitch for ‘Jobs Bill’
“The fastest way to put Americans back to work is to engage the 20% idle workers in the building trades to fix bridges, water, and other infrastructure systems. This work could put millions to work at family-wage jobs,” suggested Blumenauer.

“I’ve been working on legislation such as the ‘Orphan Highway Program’ – a little set-aside in the Federal Transportation Act bill – it comes directly from my experience with the City of Portland.”

Earl Blumenauer gives feedback regarding several of the topics brought up at the informal meeting.

Suggests school district consolidation
“We have more than three times the number of school districts in Oregon as in Florida; yet they have five times more people. Working with our school districts here, we want to make sure we help in ways that don’t interfere with what they’re trying to do.”

Especially when it comes to education, Blumenauer said, “Politicians often want to pass bills to ‘feel like they did something’. My ‘reality check’ is to make sure we’re doing things that will make a difference – like finding formulas to help the school districts in which many languages are spoken.”

What’s the best way to get congress to “listen” to” constituents”?

“Be clear about what you want,” Blumenauer suggested. “Often, when Congress isn’t responding in a clear and coherent way, it’s because people aren’t communicating their wants in a clear and coherent way.

“We have to all do our part,” Blumenauer concluded.

Meet with the MBA on November 8
Come learn all about the Midway Business Association, a business group dedicated to helping neighbors and businesses improve the southern end of outer East Portland.

This month: Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Lee will talk about his unique and fascinating experiences, and about crime in outer East Portland. Remember, visitors ARE welcome and the presentation is free (but you pay for your own lunch). Their meeting runs from 11:45 AM until 1 PM at Bill Dayton’s PIZZA BARON Restaurant on SE 122nd Ave., just south of Division St. For more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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