OP-ED: Rehabilitating Portland's image

OP-ED: Rehabilitating Portland's image Main Photo

8 Jun 2023

This op-ed, written by Greater Portland Inc CEO Monique Claiborne, appeared in the Portland Business Journal.

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"We are asking Oregon lawmakers to consider a $5 million investment to implement (a marketing) strategy."

Portland has had a rough couple of years and its reputation has taken a beating. Multnomah County’s population has declined in each of the past two years, a phenomenon that one Portland State University researcher attributes to an aging population leaving for the suburbs, reputational damage and the rise in homelessness as reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Jamie Goldberg.

Businesses and their workers choose not to locate in our region for some of the same reasons.

The region’s economic malaise demands a messaging campaign that will elevate Greater Portland’s profile as a place to grow businesses, specifically tailored to prospective workers and the business community.

Oregon Employment Department figures show that from 2021 to 2022, the number of private sector jobs in Multnomah County grew only 0.6% compared to 1.3% in Clackamas County, 2.2% in Washington County and 2.8% in Columbia County.

While suburban counties are outpacing Multnomah County, the region as a whole is underperforming. From 2020 Q3 – 2022 Q3, the number of new businesses added to the Portland MSA grew 7% and was four percent lower than the national average (11%). We also trailed Denver (15%), Salt Lake City (24%), Seattle (10%), and San Diego (8%), regions we often compete with for talent and expansion projects, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U.S. corporate executives, cited high crime, poor local government, social unrest and hostility to business as reasons for not choosing the metropolitan area for investment and expansion in a recent survey commissioned by my organization, Greater Portland Inc.

There is an indisputable reputation problem that needs to be rehabilitated. We have world-class companies that have chosen to stay, unparalleled lifestyle assets, and an educated, versatile workforce to fuel business growth. Now is the time to drive all those points to location decision makers. It’s hard to retain businesses when the decision makers are outside of the state and negative stories are constantly promulgated.

States with similar populations are already doing so. South Carolina, Louisiana, and Alabama spend between $5-8 million annually on business marketing. The result is visibility as a business location. Oregon on the other hand, spends roughly $20,000-50,000. While other states are heavily focused on digital channels promoting its regional hubs as business locations, Oregon’s business strategy is in the form of trade shows and relationship building.

With the Portland region making up 52.6% of all employment and 60% of all wages in Oregon in 2022 Q2 now is the time to be aggressive and reinforce what we know are positives. We need businesses to understand what we offer in terms of a diverse, talented educated workforce. We need businesses to understand the heterogenous regional economy we offer and the quality of life that employees can enjoy if they live here.

Greater Portland Inc consulted with Development Counsellors International, a place marketing firm to develop a marketing blueprint with a succinct brand promise that articulates “reasons to believe.” To have the greatest impact, we are asking Oregon lawmakers to consider a $5 million investment to implement the strategy.