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Photo Credit: COURTESY OREGON GOVERNOR'S OFFICE - Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber urged business leaders to do more to help the poorest residents at the Oregon Leadership Summit.Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber challenged hundreds of business leaders to create more good paying jobs during his keynote speech at the Business Leadership Summit in Portland on Tuesday.


Addressing a crowd that included a Who's Who list of Oregon's most influential private sector leaders, Kitzhaber said the economic recovery was creating thousands of new jobs, but that too many of the state's residents are still suffering financially.

"We need to have a serious conversation about the inherent contradiction in our economic recovery that is creating jobs but still leaving hundreds of thousands of Oregonians behind," Kitzhaber said.

Admitting he did not have an answer, Kitzhaber said the business leaders and others must address the issue during the 2015 Oregon legislative session that begins in earnest in early February.

Although Oregon has more than recovered all the jobs lost during the Great Recession, the statewide average income is $4,000 behind its 2007 level.

Before Kitzhaber spoke, a panel discussion by legislative leaders revealed partisan differences on key issues expected to surface during the session. Senate Democratic Leader Diane Rosenbaum and House Democratic Leader Val Hoyle indicated their caucuses are interested in raising the minimum wage and requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave and retirement plans for their employees. Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli and Mike McLane said such requirements would unfairly burden small businesses and slow the recovery.

"Watch out, the 2015 Legislature is coming," McLane said.

Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek joined Kitzhaber and the other legislative leaders in saying the 2015 Oregon Legislature should pass a transportation funding package. Although no one said what it should include, they talked about the deteriorating condition of the state highway system and the damage a major earthquake would do to bridges that are not built to current earthquake standards.

Despite the underlying tensions, everyone agreed the economy is in much better shape that 2010, when the annual summit discussed such issues as growing unemployment and a gaping state budget deficit.

"We set a goal then of creating 25,000 new jobs a year, and we are exceeding that. We have created more than 33,000 jobs a year during the past three years," Kitzhaber said.

The summit is the annual gathering held by the Oregon Business Council to discuss its legislative agenda, called the Oregon Business Plan. Its goals including creating jobs and reducing poverty. This year's priorities are: connecting education with careers, putting natural resources to work to help rural economies, and modernizing infrastructure.

The all-day summit drew hundreds of business and government leaders to the Oregon Convention Center, including legislative leaders and most of the Portland City Council.

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