Oregon Leadership Summit Speakers Identify Solutions

Published Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Oregon Business Plan’s annual Leadership Summit helps set the tone for business lobbying efforts in the upcoming legislative session. This year’s event, sponsored by the Oregon Business Council (OBC), Oregon Business & Industry (OBI) and Portland Business Alliance (PBA) on Monday, December 3, helped frame key issues that will define the 2019 session. Below are a few key issues important to the business community.

Multiple speakers noted the importance of education in helping Oregon remain competitive and innovative. An improved education system will both create opportunity for Oregonians to move up the economic ladder and help attract skilled workers to Oregon. Kali Thorne Ladd, executive director of KairosPDX, drew a standing ovation after her impassioned speech—written as a letter from students to the state—for the state to focus on improving educational outcomes.

Keynote speaker Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist and director of Opportunity Insights, detailed the importance of neighborhoods and education to upward mobility in his satellite presentation. The Oregon Business Plan announced a partnership with Opportunity Insights to do Oregon-specific mobility research. To learn more about Opportunity Insights, click here.

OBI CEO Sandra McDonough interviewed a panel of legislators from the Joint Committee on Student Success about how that bicameral, bipartisan committee developed its recommendations for improving education in Oregon. The legislators also said they would be developing revenue options for funding school improvements and said cost control, including Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) reform, would be on their agenda.

Fiscal Reform
Fiscal reform, including curbing growth in the cost of PERS and public employee health benefits, continued to be a major focus of the Leadership Summit. Speakers stressed the need to address cost containment, emphasizing that, until cost growth is curbed, any new revenue would be consumed by growth of existing programs like PERS. To see the Business Plan’s work on cost containment and revenue reform, click here.

Business Plan consultant Tim Nesbitt acknowledged the political challenge ahead. Containing costs will require changes to PERS. Revenue reform requires likely may involve some tax increases. Doing either of those things is difficult. “And trying to do both at once may be twice as hard,” Nesbitt said. “But that’s the imperative we face now.”

Natural Resources
With carbon reduction a leading goal of legislative leaders, the 2019 session could pose challenges for natural resource-based industries, including many of Oregon’s manufacturers.

Forestry consultant Matt Donegan called for the best minds in the public and private sectors to work together on an Oregon Forestry Business Plan, using the forest fires of recent summers as a call to action.

The health and economic damages from forest fires affect all of Oregon, Donegan emphasized. Everyone needs to work together to assemble all available information, make hard decisions and assemble the best plan that balances economic, health and environmental concerns, Donegan said.

Bobby Cochran, executive director of Willamette Partnership, addressed a natural resource issue that receives less attention—especially in urban parts of the state—water. According to Cochran, it’s a myth that Oregon has plenty of water, and by 2080, there will be 40 percent to 50 percent less water stored in Oregon because of climate change. Cochran urged action now to protect agriculture and other industries that depend on water.