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Residents across the region seem to have a definite preference for small businesses instead of big corporations.

They also would rather see this region spend its money on maintaining existing roads and bridges, rather than expanding urban growth around the metro area’s edges.

In a way, these attitudes — as revealed by the Metro regional government’s Opt In research — reflect a commonsense approach to spending public money. People appear highly interested in basic services, and much less enthusiastic about aggressive expansionary plans.

But we also wonder whether this region can attain the type of economic progress it desires without thinking bigger — in terms of both businesses and investment in infrastructure such as roads, bridges and sewer and water lines.

Funding the fundamentals

The most recent Metro Opt In survey, however, shows scant support for big dreams. Of 3,319 people who responded to the survey, only 14 percent named “attracting large corporations to the region” as their top economic development strategy. By contrast, 30 percent said the best thing the region can do to create jobs is to maintain existing roads, bridges, pipes and other infrastructure, while 27 percent like the idea of providing tax incentives and loans to small businesses.

When it comes to notions such as reducing regulations and expanding the urban growth boundary, only a small percentage of people said those were important.

Overall, the Opt In survey reinforces the results of other opinion polls that show local residents are most interested in basic services. If you take such attitudes to the extreme, however, then the region may have to ask whether it wants another Intel, another Nike, another Boeing or any of a number of large employers that collectively provide thousands of jobs and also, not coincidentally, buy millions of dollars of goods and services from the smaller businesses that have clustered around them.

Portland has slipped behind other regions in per-capita income in part because it doesn’t have the big anchor employers that are found in Seattle and other peer cities. Within the Portland area, the most economically successful county — Washington County — also happens to be the one that’s invested heavily in roads and worked the hardest to attract large corporations.

Did anyone ask you?

One possible lesson from the Opt In survey, which was conducted by DHM Research, is that regional leaders need to do a better job of explaining to the public why it’s important to attract large companies that in turn help balance the economy. Those companies won’t choose the Portland region unless it has an adequate supply of land and up-to-date infrastructure.

Another possible lesson is that regional residents are less concerned with jobs and per-capita income than they are with livability.

The Opt In survey also shows attitudes can vary significantly, depending on where a person lives within the region. The current Opt In panel is overly weighted toward residents of Portland proper, which means the results of these surveys could change as more suburban residents decide to “opt in.”

The ongoing Opt In survey isn’t just an exercise in gathering public opinions. It serves as an important guide for the Metro Council as it makes far-reaching decisions about transportation, land use and other regional issues. Whether you agree with the survey’s conclusions or strongly disagree, you cannot influence the outcome unless you participate.

People often say no one asks their opinion before public decisions are made. In this case, residents only have to follow this link ( to know they are contributing to the regional conversation. An Opt In panel that’s more representative of the entire region may or may not change Metro’s priorities, but at least it will give regional decision makers a firm sense of what the public truly believes.

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