Throughout my nearly 11 months as the Portland Business Alliance board chair, I have had the pleasure of guiding wide-ranging discussions about impactful policies at the city, regional and state level. As the greater Portland metro region's chamber of commerce, the Alliance has defied the traditional business typecast time and again to step up and partner with government, including when it has meant looking for additional revenue to support such important public priorities as education, affordable housing, shelter space, social services, transportation and many more initiatives.
Inherent in our vision for a healthy business environment in Portland is the acknowledgment that businesses thrive when the community thrives.
That is why the Alliance stepped up to collaborate with Mayor Wheeler on his proposed FY 2018-19 budget, which included an increase in the business license tax from its current rate of 2.2 percent to 2.6 percent. The increase is expected to generate around $15 million in the next fiscal year, which will result in comprehensive, measurable outcomes in many areas, but primarily on the one issue that Portlanders rightly care most about: Homelessness.
I will be the first to admit that saying "yes" to a tax increase is never easy, and we thought long and hard about this one. What got us to yes was the mayor's commitment to allocate additional revenue to programs we know will address the homeless issue most effectively. With this budget, the city will stabilize and increase funding for the Joint Office of Homeless Services, adding the ability to transition 240 additional families and individuals from temporary shelters into permanent affordable housing.
The added revenue will also ensure ongoing funding for the Portland Police Bureau's Behavioral Health Unit, instating two additional Behavioral Health Response Teams. These teams will allow the unit to serve as many as 250 additional people experiencing mental health issues per year by increasing caseload capacity — a remarkable 50 percent increase over the current year. Easing access to mental health care will have a profound and positive impact on Portland's chronically homeless population, which is traditionally hard to serve. Finally, this budget will allow Portland Fire and Rescue to establish a new Community Health Care Manager position, which will work with frequent utilizers of the 9-1-1 system to help them transition to secure housing.
Of course, these efforts won't end homelessness, but they will help us move in the right direction, and contribute to a holistic approach to this widespread and complex issue.
Without a doubt, no issue has been more challenging for our entire community than the housing emergency and homeless epidemic. I have taken heart in the extraordinary energy and compassion shown by the Alliance and our member businesses to be part of the solution — not only on the homeless issue, but in many other areas of need.
While the Alliance itself is encouraged by the partnership we share with policymakers tackling our region's largest issues, our proudest partnership is with our more than 1,900 member businesses. That is why we recently launched a storytelling campaign called "Supporting Our Community" to highlight the incredible community service our members and their employees give day in and day out.
One of those stories about Theresa Michels, an estimating assistant with Deacon Construction, is just one example.
In 2017, Theresa and her coworkers teamed up with Kinship House, a nonprofit providing outpatient mental health and support services for foster children, to gather 80 coats of all sizes for distribution during the cold fall and winter months.
After delivering the coats to Kinship House, Theresa took the lead on an even bigger project to support the nonprofit — rallying Deacon employees to help build a new play structure, funded by the Deacon Charitable Foundation. Theresa enthusiastically managed the project, not only finding a subcontractor to volunteer their time to assist in the build, but also arranging to have the old play structure donated to Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
"It's what we should be doing when we live in a community with others," Theresa said. "We owe it to try to do our best and help others do their best as well."
There are hundreds more stories like this one all over our community. It is incredibly inspiring and important to tell these stories, so we all are encouraged to do more.
The Portland Business Alliance and our members are proud to step up and support our neighbors in need, whether it be through public policy or community service and activation. We understand when smart investments — of both money and time — are made, our community as a whole thrives.
Jim Mark is the CEO of Melvin
Mark Companies and is chair of the Portland Business Alliance board of