Lake Oswego 2020 City Council and mayoral candidates addressed business-related issues at their first candidate forum before the upcoming election.
The Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual forum through Zoom Sept. 17 and presented candidates with five questions before the meeting.
Just under 100 people clocked in to listen to each candidate give an introduction and discuss a question of their choosing for three-and-a-half minutes.
The questions were: How would you assist existing businesses? How would you recruit new businesses? How would you provide diversity education for business owners and employees? How would you enable workforce and affordable housing, and how would you improve transportation into and around Lake Oswego?
Many candidates mentioned that the questions were intertwined and often covered multiple topics when addressing the presented questions.
Joe Buck, who is running for Lake Oswego mayor, along with current councilors John LaMotte and Theresa Kohlhoff, spoke specifically about providing diversity education for business owners and employees.
He said he has noticed local businesses adapting over the years to meet the needs of a changing customer base, with people coming from different cultures and backgrounds, as well as a more diverse range of employees.
Buck said in the restaurant business, common service issues are attributed to racial bias, and companies need to take a step back and do something different with training.
"We really don't always have the tools and are left to searching online (for) 'What's the best way to handle these really important issues?'" Buck said.
That's why he said a training program starts with a strong relationship between the chamber and the city — a relationship that's been working well together over the last year by providing more resources to the business community.
Buck said that by creating a community environment that's more accessible to all types of people, it attracts new diverse businesses and employees representing all community members.
Rachel Verdick, who is running for a seat on the city council, said talking about diversity, equity and inclusion in the business sector is a really important topic.
"If we can work with our businesses on diversity, equity and inclusion, I think we can have a great impact on being a welcoming community for everyone," Verdick said.
She also said one of the ways to do this is to work with the chamber and local businesses to develop a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative that helps provide training for businesses of any size to help support them.
Melissa Fireside, who is also running for a seat on the city council, chose to discuss recruiting new businesses. She said in the face of economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the city needs to create entry points for new businesses. In any severe economic downturn, Fireside said, what breeds growth is innovation from new businesses and entrepreneurs.
"I believe creating entry points for women and diverse business owners is a key to this," she said.
Fireside also said the city needs to make an investment into people's futures by having grant opportunities and training programs, while also ensuring that the business code is simple and easy to understand and creating mentorship teams for businesses facing the pandemic.
On the other hand, candidate Aaron Rapf, said the city needs to prioritize and support the already established businesses.
He said what hasn't been discussed much is the "30-plus" businesses in Lake Oswego that have closed since the pandemic began.
"Prioritization means taking care of what we have," Rapf said. "We need to have an integrated marketing campaign for our local businesses in our community."
Rapf added that when Lake Oswego businesses are successful, the community is successful.
Candidate Massene Mboup also acknowledged that he wanted to help Lake Oswego businesses navigate the current crises.
"In order to help these businesses and assist them, we need to work on transportation," Mboup said.
He said he'd love to work with the chamber further, which is already doing a good job assisting businesses. He also said he would work on affordable housing and increasing those opportunities in the city.
Kohlhoff thought that focusing on transportation was important because it relates to affordable housing.
She said the city needs to increase its walkability with more sidewalks while emphasizing improved transit. She said one aspect of improving transportation she's looking forward to is the Southwest Corridor Lightrail, which is dependent upon the Metro bond passing in November.
"If you see it from its terminus in Bridgeport, you see how exciting that could be for (a) affordable housing project there on Boones Ferry where the mobilization equipment is presently housed," Kohlhoff said.
LaMotte said affordable housing is one question that is affecting future residents and businesses. He said the city has already begun work to prepare for more affordable housing, including reducing systems development charges (SDCs) for dwelling units and eliminating SDC charges for affordable housing projects. The next step is to facilitate the project, he said.
"We don't have enough affordable apartments or affordable condos for sale," LaMotte said. "We need to really get a project going. I've been advocating this."
City council candidate Emma Burke said she was astounded to realize the number of people who invest in Lake Oswego emotionally and through their labor, but can't reside in the city due to economic reasons.
Burke said the city should have a subsidy program for people who contribute to the community by having a "voucher-type system." She suggested that the city own more buildings instead of charging developers a fee to demolish existing buildings, which would be a great investment for workforce housing.
She said by allowing cannabis sales in the city, it could generate tax revenue to be spent elsewhere in the community, like to fund caseworkers to join police on de-escalation calls.
Ultimately Burke said the community has a lot of strengths, but by working together, the city can develop creative ways to make it better in the future.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.