Business Tribune Column: Intense Change Comes With Opportunity For Our Region

22 Jun 2020

GPI in the News

This column appeared in the Business Tribune. Matt Miller, Greater Portland Inc's interim president and CEO, writes a monthly column for the local newspaper. 

We are in a period of intense change: Our region, along with the rest of the country, is experiencing the worst recession since the Great Depression due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

And in the wake of the most recent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police officers, Greater Portlanders have joined protestors throughout the U.S. and the world demanding justice and reforms that address systemic racism and police brutality. 

At Greater Portland Inc, we are renewing our long-standing commitment to creating a regional economy that works for all of our residents. 

We have a long way to go: According to a GPI analysis of Census data, Black workers in Greater Portland earn 77 cents for every dollar white workers earn. And according to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, Black male Oregonians of prime working age have continually experienced higher rates of unemployment than their white counterparts. 

Similar disparities are true for other racial groups. For example, Hispanic/Latino workers, who make up over 12% of our region’s workforce, earn just 66 cents for every dollar of white workers. Furthermore, COVID-19 (which itself disproportionately affects people of color) and the current economic fallout will surely exacerbate many of these inequities. 

Economic development is a powerful tool, and the actions we take now can help correct the systems responsible for these disparities and have a lasting positive impact. 

Here’s what GPI is doing to address the inequities in our region: 

Regional recovery plan 

In partnership with Metro, GPI is developing a short-term business recovery plan for the region that will target those who have lost jobs or whose businesses are struggling due to the pandemic. This plan will be created with input from our 31-person Greater Portland Economic Development District (GPEDD) board, which has representatives from Clackamas, Clark, Multnomah and Washington counties. Forty percent of the directors hail from the public sector, 30% from the private sector and 30% from nonprofits. Thirty percent are women and 26% are people of color. 

A wide range of state and regional experts in small business development, job skills training, and economics will also help develop the recovery plan. It will identify an ecosystem of resources (including federal dollars) available for different groups of people and businesses. 

Export assistance scholarships 

Growing Small Businesses Globally is GPI’s export assistance program aimed at helping local business owners – particularly those who are women, people of color and veterans – start exporting their products or services internationally. The scholarships provide access to valuable training sessions with seasoned export advisors, as well as a stipend for internationally focused sales activities. 

We have awarded 48 scholarships since the program’s inception in 2018. This program grows our economy from the inside, and builds generational wealth in historically underserved communities. What’s more, the scholarships come at a crucial time, as many entrepreneurs are now struggling. 

Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy 

GPI continues to work with Metro, as well as public- and private-sector stakeholders (including our GPEDD board) to develop the bi-state region’s five-year comprehensive economic development strategy. This process will result in an action-oriented plan that addresses economic disruptions and challenges while recognizing that growth, prosperity, and inclusion are complementary, not contradictory. 

The process will also generate innovative approaches to building a more inclusive economy. Our export assistance scholarship was born out of our last 5-year strategy. We look forward to identifying new ways to help close the various equity gaps in our region. 

Employment Land Site Readiness Toolkit 

In partnership with Metro and the Port of Portland, the Employment Land Site Readiness Toolkit project proposes tools and policy changes to help cities, counties and other jurisdictions transform existing, unused land within the Urban Growth Boundary into active places of employment. 

Site-specific roadmaps will include high-level equity assessments of the employment site. Community demographics and equity indicators from Metro’s Economic Value Atlas, an interactive mapping tool, will identify avenues to enhance access to opportunity by underrepresented populations.  

We will and must do more to address the inequities that persist in our region. We look forward to working with partners throughout the region to build a new economy that allows everyone to prosper.