Business Leaders Tackle Persistent Poverty

Oregon's poverty rate has continued to club even after the end of the last recession. Oregon business leaders will discuss how to meet their goal of reducing poverty sharply in the next six years.Oregon business leaders will gather a week from now and focus on a very untypical business topic — how to reduce Oregon's poverty level.

The Oregon Business Plan calls for reducing the level of poverty in the state from 17.2 percent to less than 10 percent by 2020. Sounds good, but how? And why do business leaders care?

The answer stretches over several subjects — ensuring a trained, available workforce, restoring economic prosperity to rural communities and making Oregon an appealing place for outside investors. After all, who wants to invest in a state that some call the Appalachia of the West?

Leadership summits often hover at the grasstops of problematic issues, but this year the Oregon Business planners are definitely getting into the thick weeds. After the obligatory morning sessions about success stories, the afternoon sessions dive into subjects such how to connect workforce training with actual careers, grow profitable minority and women-owned small businesses, finance public works that make communities ready for new development and tap the natural resources key to returning rural economic health.

Along the way, summit attendees will have a chance to tune into the latest bends in the curve of health care reform and sweeping changes at Oregon's major universities. There also will be a discussion of tax reform to produce "stable funding" for services and support of job growth.

Governor Kitzhaber gives the keynote, but First Lady Cylvia Hayes is among the leaders of the breakout group discussing how to achieve the poverty reduction goal in the next six years.

Held at the Oregon Convention Center, the leadership summit attracts many of the state's leading CEOs and business leaders, along with top politicos — both Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are attending breakout sessions organized as "regional huddles" for different parts of the state before giving their federal agenda updates.

More important, the Oregon Business Plan has been widely recognized as a credible strategy and merits attention by state, regional and local policymakers. John Carter, chairman of Schnitzer Steel, will give the opening remarks, including a progress report on meeting income and poverty reduction goals.

It would not be hard to imagine a business-led leadership summit in other states with a far different agenda, including measures aimed at organized labor and decreasing taxation and regulation. Those topics are missing on the Oregon Business Plan agenda.

Instead, the agenda reflects a longer-term perspective. A state without quality education and with large numbers of communities drowning in perpetual recession isn't a very attractive place to launch or relocate a business. A state whose business leaders are willing to tackle an intractable problem such as poverty, salvaging unfound and untapped human potential, may be just the place where you would.

The Oregon Business Plan leadership Summit is Monday, December 9, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. Registration and sponsorship opportunities remain open.