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Beginning of new decade is perfect time to redefine what economic success looks like in greater Portland

PMG FILE - Ashley HenryAt the start of this new year, it's easy to get lost in the daily volley of news coverage emanating from our nation's capital and battleground states.

Primaries and hearings are likely to dominate the front page and social media scrolls until votes are cast in early November. While it is true that the decisions made in Washington have far-reaching impacts on our collective future, we must not lose sight of the fact that the decisions we make here in Oregon have vast and immediate consequences. And in 2020, we have some big decisions to make.

Released in December, the 2019 Poverty in Multnomah County report shed a blazing light on the challenges we face. A significant finding of the report was that "Multnomah County has experienced strong economic growth in recent years, but the growth has primarily benefited the county's highest-income households." It goes on to note that the number of households in Portland with incomes of $100,000 or more has grown by 45% over the last decade, making Portland the 10th wealthiest major city in the U.S.

While wealth in Portland is on the rise, the majority of the region's residents are being left out of that prosperity. Wages at the lower end of the pay scale have stagnated, meaning most working people are earning too little to make ends meet. This confirms the tragic reality that "even full-time employment isn't enough to lift many workers out of poverty."

With the beginning of a new decade, it's time to redefine what qualifies as economic success here in greater Portland. Our business community has the opportunity to change the conversation — to recognize that shared prosperity is the only route to long-term success for our individual endeavors. It's a reality that requires complex and varied solutions, but it also requires us to take the lead in advancing change, starting with our own business practices and civic engagement.

A great place to start is improving access to capital for businesses owned by women and people of color. At a time when funding is readily available to big businesses, loans under $100,000 in Portland have declined by close to $1 billion. Women-owned businesses and those owned by people of color continue to struggle to get SBA loans. Until we level the playing field and open up lending opportunities, the capacity for economic growth in Oregon will be severely limited.

Before the 2020 legislative session begins in February, Business for a Better Portland is connecting business leaders to meet with elected officials and advance legislation that will increase small business lending, provide grants to support innovation and entrepreneurship, and spur economic development in communities across the state.

As Oregonians struggle to afford the rising cost of housing, and many are pushed to move further from their workplaces, we must raise our voices to improve affordability and transportation choices for all. In the coming weeks, the Portland City Council will be making major decisions about how to expand housing options in residential neighborhoods, creating more homes for families of all sizes and Portlanders with a wider range of incomes and occupations. Business leaders have a clear interest in advocating for these changes as they will have far-reaching implications for both our employees and customers — those directly contributing to our region's prosperity.

On the transportation front, Metro Council and community leaders are working towards a region-wide transportation investment measure that is on track to appear on the ballot this November. While the details are being finalized, the measure would fund infrastructure and programs to make walking, biking, and transit more convenient and accessible while reducing overall air pollution. There's still time to share your views with Metro about the kind of regional transportation system you'd like to see built over the next decade.

Whatever industry sector you represent, it is impossible to divorce the success of our businesses from that of our communities. We are already beginning to get a glimpse of what the future holds if we fail to shift the direction of our economy. As our window to address the global climate crisis continues to shrink, carbon emissions from transportation continue to rise in Multnomah County. Equally urgent is our housing and homelessness crisis. Thousands of Oregonians are living unprotected outdoors, making our state second only to California in the number of neighbors living unsheltered. As the economic divide grows wider, more Oregonians are at risk of experiencing housing insecurity.

Last year, we called on business leaders to make 2019 a year of civic engagement. Over the course of the last 12 months, we saw massive participation in conversations about the greatest challenges facing our community. In 2020, let's turn that engagement into action and continue the work of creating a future where opportunity extends to all and everyone in the region has what they need to thrive.

Ashley Henry is the executive director of Business For A Better Portland. She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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