December Message from Board Chair Scott Parrish

Published Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Dear Members:

Oregon is a wide ranging and diverse state, with many different regions, people and opinions. That’s why, when OBI recently conducted a poll, we did a larger than usual voter sample so we could compare how Oregonians in different regions of our state feel about how things are going.

You can see the full poll results by clicking here. But I thought it would be interesting to take a look at those regional differences, and what they tell us about Oregon and Oregonians in 2019.

Conducted by Moore Information Group, the poll included 823 telephone interviews conducted Oct. 23-29. We oversampled in Southern, Coastal and Eastern Oregon so we could look at voter attitudes in those regions and compare them to the rest of the state.

Most striking to me was a question designed to tell us what Oregonians think about the long-term future of their home communities. “Do you believe children in your part of Oregon will be able to find a good job in the local area when they are out of school and looking for work,” we asked.  “Or do you think they will have to move elsewhere to find a good job?”

The regional differences to this answer were startling. In Portland-metro and the Willamette Valley, where the economies are growing, only 38% of respondents felt kids would have to leave their home communities to find a good job. But in Eastern Oregon, 59% felt kids would have to move, and in Southern Oregon and on the Coast, a startling 72% felt kids in their communities would have to move.

We talk a lot about the urban rural divide in Oregon, and I think the answer to this question defines the problem. In large portions of our state – the largely rural regions -- Oregonians feel their local economy is not strong enough to support new, growing families.

I grew up in Newberg. That’s where I met my wife, and it’s where we wanted to raise our family. I can’t imagine feeling that I would have to leave my home to find a job that could support a family. But that’s what many Oregonians clearly feel today, and it’s why we have to develop strategies that lift all of Oregon, so that all communities, and all families, can thrive.

The poll showed some other interesting regional differences, some where urban and rural interests unite, some where they divide.  Take homelessness, for example. With an open-ended question, we asked respondents to tell us what they view as the most important issue facing their region today. If you look at the responses from a statewide basis, homelessness tops the list, with 19% naming it as the top issue.

But when we break the answers down by regions, it is not surprising that that response is dominated by urban Oregon, where homelessness is most visible. Multnomah County respondents had a huge impact on the statewide results, with 33% of the respondents there saying homelessness was their issue. That was followed by Washington and Clackamas counties, where 19% of respondents named homelessness as their top issue. That doesn’t mean homelessness is not a concern in the rest of the state – in fact many respondents throughout the state named it as a major issue – but the focus on driving solutions is greatest in Oregon’s most urban area.

On the other hand, housing affordability seems to be a concern largely shared by voters across Oregon. Statewide, it was the top issue for 11% of our respondents. Some 10% in Multnomah County named it as a major concern, compared to 15% on the Coast and 11% in Eastern Oregon.

While these numbers may seem small, these results show housing is on people’s minds in every corner of our state. For families and communities to thrive, they need both a good-paying job and a home they can afford. As employers, we know how housing availability impacts our ability to keep and retain good workers. We need to advocate for policies that ensures there is adequate housing supply to support households with all levels of income.

On the Coast and in Southern Oregon, jobs and the economy were also of high concern, coming in with 15% and 13%, respectively. Again, those are places where the economy is slower, compared to the booming economies of the Portland-metro area, where, not surprisingly, concern for jobs and the economy were at or below 7%.

There’s a lot to highlight in this poll, and it is well worth taking time to peruse through it. I want to thank the OBI Foundation for conducting the survey and providing us with this valuable insight into what Oregonians care about. Their plan is to conduct a new survey every year, so we, as employers, can consider the results as we build our policy agendas. After all, these respondents are the men and women who work for us, the people who make Oregon the great state that it is.

Thank you for reading my monthly column this past year. I have one more before I turn the OBI Board of Directors gavel over to Karen Vineyard of Bank of America. It has been an honor to lead this organization, to serve business and, most importantly, to address the needs of Oregonians.

I hope you and your families have a great holiday season. Thank you for your support of OBI.