Making State Jobs Programs Do the Job

A new law seeks to coordinate and streamline Oregon's economic development efforts to help the state create more jobs.Legislators of both political parties and from all parts of Oregon agreed the state can play a more significant role in job creation by making its far-flung economic development efforts more agile and coordinated.

With nearly unanimous support in their short 2012 session, lawmakers approved House 4040, which the Eugene Register-Guard said "could prove to be the most far-reaching jobs bill that emerged from the legislative session."

The genesis of the Oregon Investment Act stands in stark contrast to the bickering and posturing in Congress as it debates how to stimulate the still-sluggish U.S. economy.  The act also provided a way for legislators here to surmount their usual differences over the appropriate government role in economic development.

To get behind the scenes, I asked Rep. Tobias Read to recount how the measure came about. Here's what he said:

"After he was elected, Governor Kitzhaber and his team asked Treasurer Ted Wheeler, Business Development Commission Chair Wally Van Valkenburg and me to serve as something of an economic development transition team. We had a lot of help from Scott Nelson (Governor's office), Tim McCabe (Business Oregon director), Paul Grove (Business Oregon legislative coordinator) and others as we worked quickly to put together some recommendations. We also recognized that there was far more work than could be done in the short time between his election and his inauguration, so, as we delivered our recommendations, we asked for the opportunity to continue working.  

"We got permission, and spent some time learning about strategies from other states and countries, and then went on the road to talk with people about what businesses in Oregon needed to expand and hire.

"We heard different versions of the same story around the state. The consistent theme was that businesses couldn't get access to the capital they needed to expand.  Furthermore, people felt that Oregon's programs are scattered across agencies, difficult to find, and too rigid.

"We recognized that we couldn't solve all these problems in the short session, or in the time that led up to it, so the Investment Act (House Bill 4040) is really enabling legislation that creates the Growth Board to build a plan to address all these issues — and to make policy recommendations to set the stage for substantive changes next session.  We made clear that we were interested in establishing priorities, promoting flexibility, achieving coordination, and gaining the leverage that comes from attracting new private-sector dollars into the Oregon economy.  

"We don't want to pre-judge what the Growth Board will do or say, but I can imagine that it might advocate for greater emphasis on agility, coordination and streamlining. It also could recommend mechanisms to allow Oregonians to invest in Oregon's economic development."

Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, played a key role in shaping the Oregon Investment Act.

The legislation and the careful thought behind it are already opening up new, fresh lines of thinking. One possibility is something called the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange. This would involve bundling a mix of local and state infrastructure projects into some form of security sold to private and institutional investors.

The painful lesson of the recent past is that Oregon needs to bootstrap itself out of the economic doldrums. State economic development programs and investments, while always important, are now critical. The Oregon Investment Act, with its strong bipartisan support and high expectations, is testament to that fact.

 

CFM partner Dave Fiskum has lobbied in the private sector for more 20 years, but also served in the Atiyeh Administration as deputy director of the Oregon Economic Development. There, he saw first-hand the need for hard work behind the scenes, as well as improved coordination, that would allow the private sector to expand and create jobs in Oregon.