Progressives in business on the march
Business for a Better Portland, the alt chamber of commerce, held its summer social Wednesday evening, in what was as much a display of power as an evening of networking with lawn games and finger food. According to Jenn Lynch of the Portland Seed Fund, who was acting as one of many greeters at the gate, the organization's membership is up to 350 companies. A total of 530 people registered for the event, and 426 showed up.
BBPDX, as it's known, is growing into a viable alternative to business advocacy groups such as the Portland Business Alliance and Oregon Business & Industry. Its membership skews young and progressive: only three men in the crowd wore the traditional sport jacket, shirt and tie uniform, and two of them were politicians.
The group's Executive Director Ashley Henry (also a Business Tribune columnist) introduced a raft of speakers, but started with the invocation more often heard at progressive-run arts organizations, recognizing that the land was once the home of various native American tribes. Henry apologized that U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer was a late cancellation. He was gone to visit detention centers on the U.S.-Mexican border, which raised a cheer.
Her message was this is a business community that doesn't have a traditional approach to prosperity, it wants to do good — in the form of advancing equity — as it goes, rather than waiting for government to react. But as the organization has shifted from monthly action items where it crowdsourced cash online for causes, to taking a more active lobbying role in the city and in Salem, it has started attracting a critical mass of players.
"Our association with the revenue reform package signals our values," as Lynch said.
Progressives with power
"I joined exactly a year ago after getting an invite to last year's summer party," Brian Allbritton, executive director at Oregon Energy Fund, told the Business Tribune. "If you're in private business and you care about the politics of your business, this is the organization for you. If you're in a nonprofit like me it's a great organization to be aligned with, because all the other businesses have self-selected into it as being progressive themselves."
From a networking standpoint, one of the speakers, Tony DeFalco of Verde, was someone Allbritton has been trying to get a meeting with for a while. This eastside community action organization was one of the main proponents of the Portland Clean Energy Fund.
"It was through this organization that I was introduced to the initiative organizing teams in last year's ballot measures, like the low income housing measures. And that was the first time that my organization (Oregon Energy Fund) in 15 years endorsed any initiatives. Fifteen years ago, they tried it and then gave up."
Allbritton says his role was minor, but refreshing.
"It gives voice to a lot of businesses and organizations that didn't really feel like they had a voice before." He cites a City Club debate on the clean energy ballot measure where his contacts were on one side... "And on the other side, you had the Portland Business Alliance! Pretty much every member of this organization was in support of Portland clean energy," he said. "So it's just how your politics align, I think."
Politicians know an active voting block when they see one. Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was there, a long time BBPDX supporter, but so was Ozzie González, a trained architect who is the director of sustainability and diversity for Howard S. Wright construction. Gonzalez is running for Portland mayor in 2020. He also has a small design consulting business.
"I'm here today supporting this event because we need to restore a working relationship between the business community and the government. We have big issues to solve in our city and none of them are going to be a government-only solution."
By "government" he said he meant all levels.
"My candidacy is about ensuring that we do have a positive working relationship with the business community," Gonzalez said.
Another curious attendee was Adrienne Rackley, an economist who works as a senior financial analyst at Home Forward. She was representing the housing agency at the event. "I actually just found out about BBPDX a couple of days ago. A mutual acquaintance connected me with Ashley Henry and Ashley invited me to attend." "They seem very focused on social justice and involving businesses in social responsibility," she said. "It seems like a great group to network with."
She said Home Forward's executive director and board sometimes take a stance on issues, for example, "Most recently Home Forward took a stance on HUD's proposed "mixed status" rule, that we no longer provide assistance for families with mixed citizenship status. So, if a family member was receiving some type of housing subsidy or assistance through the federal government, and one of the family members was not a US citizen, the family would be removed from the housing program. That's pretty scary, and our board and our organization took a stance for that reason."
WeWork the room
The event was held at Oregon Square, a plaza in the Lloyd District at Northeast Holladay Street and Eighth Avenue, which is sometimes used for farmers markets.
Another longtime backer of BBPDX, WeWork, has just opened its fourth coworking space in Portland on the next block to the east, and a representative made a pitch about it and offered tours.
Not speaking but in attendance was Michael Harold, director of Public Affairs (west) at WeWork. Harold is a Portlander now based in Seattle, where WeWork has 16 locations. When he was located in Washington, D.C., Harold was legislative director for Congressman Blumenauer, whose Portland office is one block to the south.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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