Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO CHASE ALLGOOD - Intel's first and second D1X fabrication plants are helping to drive employment gains outside of downtown Portland. Willamette Valley residents believe the economy is improving, but still want elected officials to focus on creating more jobs — even more than protecting the environment and fighting climate change.

That does not mean valley residents have shaken off their longstanding liberal leanings, however. They still trust small-business owners more than big business and even the government.

Those are among the occasionally surprising findings in a new poll commissioned by the Portland Business Association and Portland General Electric. It was released Wednesday at the PBA’s monthly breakfast


“It’s clear that people think the economy is improving, but they’re saying don’t take the foot off the gas when it comes to job creation,” says Sandra McDonough, chief executive officer of the PBA, which represents Portland businesses.

“It’s important for us to know what our 850,000 customers think about these issues. People are feeling more confident about the economy, but are still worried about having and keeping a family-wage job,” says Steve Corson, PGE vice president for public


The poll was conducted by Portland’s DHM Research. It gathered responses from 600 residents, including 250 who live in Portland, 250 who live in the rest of the tricounty area and 100 who live in Marion County. The poll has a margin of error of 4 percent.

The polling firm had asked some of the same questions in 2011, allowing a comparison of how attitudes have changed since then.

Among the most significant shifts, fewer residents say they are worse off now than in 2011. At that time, 45 percent said their households were worse off than two years ago. Today, only 25 percent said that. And the number of residents who said their households were better off had increased from 15 percent in 2011 to 26 percent today.

At the same time, most residents are worried about making ends meet. Fifty-five percent are concerned about paying for household needs, compared with 46 percent who said they were not concerned.

Despite that, fewer residents rate the economy as their top concern. In 2011, 54 percent said it was the issue that concerned them the most. Today, only 35 percent said that.

Reinforcing that response is how residents view employment and job opportunities. In 2011, 38 percent said it was the No. 1 issue facing the region. Today, that response has fallen to 18 percent.

When offered a choice, most residents want to see their elected officials focus more on creating jobs than saving the environment. According to the poll, 63 percent prioritize attracting businesses and creating more family-wage jobs. In comparison, only 29 percent prioritized focusing on issues related to the environment, climate change and reducing greenhouse gases.

Trust for small business

But that does not mean residents believe that all jobs are equal. In 2011, 50 percent said local officials should focus on attracting, retaining and expanding bigger businesses that create large numbers of family-wage jobs. In contrast, only 42 percent said the focus should be on small businesses. Today, the responses more than reversed: 62 percent say the focus should be on small business and only 31 percent prefer large businesses.

That answer is consistent with who residents say they trust the most. Given a choice, 91 percent said small-business owners, compared with 62 percent for local chambers of commerce, 61 percent for local elected officials, 49 percent for large business leaders, 47 percent for federal elected officials, 46 percent for the media and 35 percent for social media.

“We need to have a mix of businesses to succeed,” McDonough says.

Asked about the best strategy for increasing middle-class jobs and wages, most residents chose something other than increasing the minimum wage, one of today’s hottest political issues. Although 65 percent chose increasing the minimum wage, 91 percent chose improving work-force and job training, 87 percent chose improving job opportunities for people in underserved communities, 85 percent chose providing locations where businesses can locate, and 73 percent chose providing tax and other incentives.

Investing in public infrastructure like roads, transit and water sources also was a top priority, with 33 percent saying that is something their local governments should pursue. After that, 29 percent chose attracting professions that provide middle-class incomes to those without college degrees, 23 percent chose exporting the region’s green technology expertise, and 22 percent chose addressing climate change.

No other single issue emerged in the poll to replace the previous concern over the economy and jobs. The only issue to increase in importance was public education, which jumped from 37 percent to 47 percent as the top concern. All other issues, from growth and density to climate change to local taxes, remained at about 25 percent or less.

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