First in-person meeting for new economic development leadership is high on getting Portland's mojo back

COURTESY PHOTO: GREATER PORTLAND INC. - Monique Claiborne, the new CEO of Greater Portland Inc, hopes to bring 10,000 new jobs to the region on the next 10 years.

Greater Portland Inc's recent economic summit was held in person at the Redd on the central east side of Portland. The gathering had an option to Zoom in for those who didn't want to rub shoulders or put on pants.

Usually, these events begin with a glowing report of how well the region is doing, as Greater Portland Inc reports on the new businesses it brought to the four-county region.

However, this time, the background message was that Portland is suffering from and needs a "transformation."

GPI's new CEO, Monique Claiborne, revealed that Portland has been doing a terrible job attracting "traded sector" jobs compared to our peers.

"Over the last two years, including the pandemic, we brought in 200 plus jobs. Salt Lake City nearly brought in 3,000 jobs over the last two years, Phoenix, nearly 10,000, and Denver about 7,000."

Claiborne looked at projected job growth from 2021 to 2031 in our strong clusters (chips and athletic apparel) compared to other cities' strong sectors.

"We're at 3% over the next 10 years. Phoenix, 12%, Seattle, 10%, even Boise in a smaller market, at 6%. The race has started, the gun has sounded, and we're not even in the blocks right now."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Monique Claiborne, (in white jacket) the new CEO of Greater Portland Inc., with other speakers at the recent Econoomic Development Summit at the Redd in Portland. The message was that this city could bounce back like Detroit, but it will take better public-private partnerships.


Claiborne reminded the room that, according to a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 80% of job growth comes from existing businesses within the region. So, economic development organizations got after the remaining 20%.

For the Portland area, that 20% equates to 40,000 jobs. GPI's goal is to bring 10,000 new jobs to the region in the next 10 years.

The target for 2021, her first year, is a mere 200 jobs, then goes up in large steps year by year. Thanks to Amazon, the 2021 target has already been exceeded. Claiborne credited Clackamas County along with Business Oregon for Amazon promising to bring 500 warehouse jobs to the city of Canby, which might make a dent in the region's more than 60,000 unemployed.

To put it in terms that politicians can understand, Claiborne said, "20,000 new jobs over the next 10 years equates to $1.9 billion in payroll total income, $3.1 billion in our contribution to GDP and $8.7 billion in the total value of industry production coming out of our region."

Cloud with a chance

Just as the region should try to focus on technology that is transforming all businesses, she promised GPI would adopt a "data-driven strategy where we can get to those 20,000 jobs… and utilize predictive analytics tools with customized algorithms and artificial intelligence that helps us better pinpoint and pursue companies that are on the verge of expansion."

As the booming voice on the video soundtrack put it, "More than becoming the cool kid again, we can build a place where we can rise to our greatest potential for our families, and for our community." The message was Portland needs transformation.

The emcee, Amy Lewin vice president of Brand & Strategic Partnerships at The Oregonian /, called Claiborne "no stranger to economic development and municipal finance. She was on the ground actively recruiting companies to Detroit during the city's largest municipal bankruptcy. While working at Ernst and Young, she negotiated credits and investment on behalf of clients for their expansion projects. And she played a role in Detroit's financial turnaround as its legislative operations CFO."

COURTESY PHOTO: GREATER PORTLAND INC. - Greater Portland Inc's recent economic summit was held in person at the Redd on the central east side of Portland. The theme was recovery. Guests gathered in person for the first time in 18 months.

Portland: The next Detroit?

The theme of the event was transformation. Portland had received "a lot of negative press," in Claiborne's words, during the 2020 disturbances downtown. As a result, Portland changed from a cheerful, creative, and liberal place that was America's pet city, to one where it was too dangerous to go downtown.

Claibourne stressed her roots in Detroit, another city that came back from the brink. Detroit did it by selling off blighted land cheap, encouraging entrepreneurism and high tech (especially automated manufacturing end electric cars), and generally offering itself as a blank slate to new homesteaders.

She talked of the City of Detroit, "where its reputation precedes itself, with skyrocketing unemployment, crime, corruption, dilapidated buildings in a ghost town. Greater Portland is also a place where its reputation precedes itself. Historically known for sustainability, but where innovation is now being overshadowed by violent protests and social unrest."

She said Detroit a decade ago started to turn the tide through the sheer will and commitment of a few private sector, public and philanthropic groups. Of Portland now, she said, "We can't let this crisis go to waste, we can be better than the past. And we can be whoever we want in the future."

"One thing that I found really remarkable when I first moved to Portland was all the Black Lives Matter signs but no black folks wherever was so bizarre, and I'm still wrapping my mind around it. But I really truly believe there is a commitment from organizations that diversity, equity and inclusion are important."

COURTESY PHOTO: GREATER PORTLAND INC. - The keynote speaker, Kofi Bonner, CEO of Bedrock, a Detroit real estate firm that was key in the city's comeback, talked about how Emeryville, California, was cleaned up and became home to Pixar, retailers like the Apple Sotre, and new apartments, with the judicious use of public money.

Cleveland Browns

Claiborne invited the keynote speaker, Kofi Bonner. She is the CEO of Bedrock, a Detroit real estate firm that was key in the city's comeback. Bedrock has invested more than 5.6 billion in developments throughout Detroit. Bonner was there to share the roadmap "that empowers Detroit to rise up from the ashes." He told the Business Tribune afterward that he was born in Ghana, raised in Surrey (a toney county near London), and lives in the Silicon Valley. He had no qualms moving between jobs in the high-tech Bay Area to Detroit.

"I'm an immigrant," he said with a shrug, explaining how he could traverse traditional social and economic silos. (He was also once Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for the NFL's Cleveland Browns.)

Bonner began his career developing affordable housing in Oakland, then became redevelopment director for the city of Emeryville, known as a toxic relic of the industrial age. Now it is known as a thriving retail, life sciences and commercial center and the home of Pixar Animation. Plus, Adobe Systems is located there along with Pete's coffee. Emeryville is aesthetically ugly, but it occupies a great location between Oakland and Berkeley.

Jerry Brown

Bonner explained that Emeryville was incorporated as a 1.2 square mile city in 1896 just for industry, no residences, as a kind of tax haven. A century later, the industry had gone away, leaving toxic soil and water that, rather like Portland's superfund site on the lower Willamette River, no one wanted to pay to clean up.

Local businesses and elected leaders went to Cal EPA, the Department of Toxic Substances Control and their own public health officials and hashed out a plan to share remediation costs. They tried to convince healthcare company Kaiser to move from Oakland to a 14-acre site at Emeryville. He was up against former governor Jerry Brown, and Brown persuaded Kaiser to stay. The silver lining was that Pixar liked the old warehouse spaces and relocated from Richmond. This had a cascade effect, attracting retailers such as Target and the Apple Store — and then housing.

"When private capital is aligned and leveraged by public financing, the result is visionary." Bonner believes strongly in public-private partnerships.

"In places like San Francisco and Oakland, private capital is really very easy to understand. Private capital flows to the path of least resistance. The more resistance the cities put up to private capital, the more likely they'll find other places to go."

The city changed its building codes to allow live-work spaces in old warehouses.

Willie Brown

"Slowly but surely, it motivated everybody and has transformed and diversified the tax base."

He also cited San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown as revitalizing the Mission Bay area. Brown used public financing to help remediate the property and create new infrastructure. "And lo and behold, Mission Bay sprang up, and Mission Bay now is probably one of the most successful innovation districts in the country."

Brands that rooted in Mission Bay include UCSF, the Marc Benioff Children's Hospital, Dropbox, Uber, and the NBA's Golden State Warriors.

He also emphasized that "community equity" was important. The benefits should be not just to investors but to the local people.

"As the community sees less and less flowing their way, their voices get louder opposing future phases. Often, public-private partnerships don't work those opposing voices to the future investments."

Could this happen in Portland? Could Prosper Portland and Mayor Ted Wheeler land a big fish with the help of local financiers?

Bonner's message to Portland was simple.

"It's clear to me is that the alignment of interests between the public sector and the private sector, are incredibly essential because nothing can occur at scale and permanence without that shared vision between the public and private sectors. And when I say the shared vision, not just the idea, but when people commit to it individually within each business, then I think we really began to get some real magic happening."

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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