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People get ready
Greater Portland Inc. holds its annual economic summit this Thursday, Sept. 13, at the Portland Art Museum. The theme for 2018 is people, as in talent, as in a workforce with sufficient skills to attract businesses in the region.
Greater Portland Inc. promotes economic development in the region, competing with big cities across the country to lure businesses here.
CEO Janet LaBar told the Business Tribune that there are "40 to 50 projects" underway right now, meaning companies thinking of opening a place in the Portland region. (Two-thirds are in manufacturing.)
"All of them are looking for competitive advantage and see people as a driver of innovation. One thing we can do for companies evaluating our market is tell them about the talent."
They all ask about things such as the enrollment of graduates and how much housing could they afford in Portland.
The day's speakers will look at the roles of government, philanthropy and entrepreneurism in investing in people. Education is a key issue: employers want to know if the talent pool hit the books.
"We lead the west coast in terms of attracting people age 25 plus with a bachelor's degree," she added.
"Portland as a region has the perception of being passive," she says. "Seattle has taken off and Portland is content with the companies that have grown up here. I think Oregon hasn't reached its potential yet. And it hasn't seen the boom and bust cycles that others have."
She said one company looking to relocate here, Coinbase, was interested in "skilling up locally." They wanted a diverse, local workforce with strong customer service skills — something the region is becoming known for when it comes to hiring by the hundreds rather than by the handful.
Lauren Ranke knows talent. She's been at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy for 20 years, the last 10 years as the Director of Creative Recruiting. That means she often has to persuade ad executives and creatives to trade London, Amsterdam, L.A. or New York for Portland.
The agency is consistently focused on world class talent, she says, adding as a side note, "Talent is a buzz word for people. I noticed this about five years ago."
And since the gig economy emerged and LinkedIn turned into a multi-billion-dollar industry, recruiting has changed.
"It's no longer just HR and headhunting. For us it comes down to a person's experience and body of work more than where they studied. I look at their portfolio and think 'How can what you've done add value to our company?'"
She says educational credentials are just a start. Now in a lot of creative industries they look at a person's output primarily.
Ranke says Wieden + Kennedy is in a privileged position. Being an industry leader it's a destination for a lot of creatives.
"We can go after passive candidates, people who aren't looking for work but are successful. We start a conversation, and say 'We think you're talented, would you ever want to move to Portland?'" She says they often say no, but keep the door open and show up eventually.
And if Ranke wants them and they absolutely hate Portland, they find them a transfer to one of the firm's other offices.
People can network from their kitchen table using LinkedIn, and creative types can show off their portfolio digitally. So now bringing people to Portland is different than it was in the past.
"The marketplace is very competitive for getting the best people. We're like commodities traders, and the commodity is talent. Who carries the greatest value?"
If there's a recession, she says the more talented people won't lose their value. "You just have less positions to offer. You're focused on the top-level talent and there's less fast turnover."
She sees some industries leveraging artificial intelligence in their recruitment, weeding through thousands of resumes with algorithms, but that's usually in the tech industry, or places that hire hundreds of people at once, such as factories and fast food.
"For the creative industry, that's the opposite of what we want."
She browses LinkedIn looking for talent globally.
"It helps me locate where people are. I'm basically a spy. It's clandestine detective work.
I can pull up any competitor and look at all their employees. In a 500-person roster I see how many artists and how many writers they have, and where they're investing money. And they can do the same to us."
Ranke moved to Portland from Detroit in 1995 and got a job at Wieden in her first week.
She says one selling point, that Portland's cost of living was a lot cheaper than other west coast cities, is gone. "We're recruiting a lot of talent from Brooklyn and L.A. Their dollar goes further, they get a washer and dryer, but I don't oversell it."
What she does sell is that "Portland is so special. It's a sophisticated town in terms of the space. If you're from L.A. and you're into art and fashion, you're going to find high quality places here that will wet your whistle, but its super livable."
One thing Portland is still missing: billionaires.
"People love to complain about change. Well, we're still special, quaint and wonderful until we get a massive Amazon or Google."
Perfect for Portland
The keynote speaker, Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., will talk about the Future of Work. Gert Boyle, Chairman of Columbia Sportswear Company, will be honored at the event with the 2018 Uniting Regionally Award. Janet LaBar says she is proud that Columbia Sportswear's slogan is "Tested tough in Portland, Oregon."
She's also proud that GPI covers seven counties (including Clark) and two states. They work with groups such as Clackamas Workforce, Workforce Southwest Washington and Worksystems, who are always writing grants for things like Pathways for Youth. She praises Prosper Portland too for "doing interesting work around enterprise zones and reinvesting in the community."
Another item GPI staff single out about the region is the transportation infrastructure. And not just light rail and bike paths for moving people, but the rail and air freight systems.
"All that makes our city complete, not to say we couldn't have improvements. It puts an exclamation point on our already walkable and smartly planned region. We complain about sitting in a car for 25 minutes, but other metros are sitting in two-hour traffic."
2008 is history
One of the panel hosts for the day comes from a major sponsor. He is Roger Hinshaw, Pacific Northwest & Canada Region Executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"GPI convenes the public and private sectors, which is crucial for economic development, to market the region around the country," Hinshaw told the Business Tribune.
He says the theme of the day is to show the role people play in creating a competitive economic environment. He sees the cycle as business providing quality jobs to keep the economy going and keep people employed. The public sector also contributes to equity and maintains a quality of life that keeps people here.
"We talk about three things: people, place and business."
The panel he is moderating is about people. "This includes the role of education, workforce development, and how to make sure we create and foster innovation."
Right now, "It's a competitive playing field for talent and new employers. We're trying to be the glue that keeps it all together."
BOA posts jobs internally and nationally for positions in Portland.
"I've always said, Portland's a big enough city to have cultural things. Like Seattle and San Francisco, we have our share of arts and culture. But we also have a small city, you can navigate and dip into it in small pieces. You can engage in it, participate. You can make more of a difference in a place like this, and be more connected to the senior leaders on the civic and political sides. That makes a difference for many people."
The state must continue to invest in secondary education to produce a skilled workforce. He wants to see people with accounting and financial skills, portfolio management skills.
"Those are often taught at our major universities, I don't think there's an education gap there."
He sees many people working remotely now — especially in Bend, Oregon. However, he says, "At the same time there are a great number of jobs located here, and we need to be here. That's where the talent is."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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