Sophorn Cheang wants Business Oregon to refocus on rural economies, equity.

COURTESY PHOTO: BUSINESS OREGON - Gov. Kate Browns new pick to head Business Oregon, the states economic development agency, is Sophorn Cheang. She is inspired by the  non-formally educated women in her family as much as by her supreme court judge grandfather and PHD father. Gov. Kate Brown's new pick to head Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency, is Sophorn Cheang, who was most recently director of the state's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Asked what Business Oregon would do for the rural economy, Cheang told the Business Tribune, "The rural-urban divide is real, and it's a systemic issue. We know living in rural communities can create additional challenges in accessing a fundamental infrastructure such as education, health care, housing, broadband, and employment opportunities."

Cheang added, "As part of the governor's budget, she is investing $118 million in broadband expansion statewide (including $10.1 million for schools). That is definitely one of the strategies to begin providing access to the community that has been disproportionately impacted during this pandemic, including our rural community. We are now living in a digital world, and broadband expansion is so important."

Business Oregon's five-year strategic plan also includes expanding research and development. Part of that is supporting the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose and the public universities.

Cheang said they want to reimagine the economic future of Oregon.

"The plan that was the governor's putting forward by centering racial justice and equity by for the access to capital for communities of color and tribal communities. That is going to be about $10 million."

As she said in an oral history conducted by Oregon State University in 2014, Cheang was born in Cambodia in 1980 and moved to the United States when she was 19.

"I'm blessed to live in a country where there are more opportunities for women, but yet there's not enough women in leadership roles today."

Cheang's background is a surprising mix. "My grandfather was a Supreme Court judge (in Cambodia), and my grandma did not finish middle school. My mom did not graduate from high school, and my dad has a Ph.D."

All the women were smart, even though they were expected to stay home and not get educated.

"I have strong support from those women in a family that helped to push and continue to support me to be where I am today. My role models are my grandma and my mom, who I definitely look up to so much."

When she talks about the business community here, she thinks first about people and families.

"Some people they think about like businesses are all about profit, like being successful is to generate more profit. But I think we have to start beginning talking about the people and then how to promote racial equity because race can no longer predict the outcome or success. We have to shift that conversation and redefine what is shared prosperity."

If the Oregon senate confirms her, she will take the post on March 1.

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