On Monday, December 16 the Oregon Business Plan convened leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors at the Oregon Convention Center to discuss The Long Game,” and asked the question, “How can we shape our economic strategy for the coming decade and beyond to lift up all Oregonians in shared prosperity?” The Oregon Business Plan was founded in 2002 by Senator Ron Wyden and the Oregon Business Council.

Some of the themes discussed throughout the day’s presentations, interviews, and panel discussions will be familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to the Oregon Legislature over the past few years, but some new priorities were revealed as well. Leaders discussed the importance of moving forward on a solution to the climate crisis, refining our collective prevention efforts and ability to respond to wildfires, creating opportunities for access to capital for entrepreneurs and startups, and bridging the economic gap between the urban and rural parts of our state.

Governor Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney, House Speaker Tina Kotek, and Republican Leader Christine Drazan were among the elected officials interviewed by business leaders throughout the day. The format provided for some valuable insights into the priorities of our elected leaders as they prepare for the Oregon Legislature’s upcoming 35-Day “Short Session,” which begins on Monday, February 3, 2020. Interestingly, it also afforded attendees a chance to hear legislators and the Governor answer challenging questions from business leaders as they defended some of the legislation passed during the 2019 Legislative Session.

Governor Brown was interviewed by Oregon Business Council Director and Dutch Bros Coffee President Joth Ricci, who asked the Governor, among other things, what the Legislature’s follow-up to the defeated House Bill 2020 might look like come February. The Governor made it clear that passing a “market-based solution with a data-driven cap (on greenhouse gas emissions) makes the most sense for Oregon,” and remains a top priority for her administration and the Democratic majority in 2020. She also mentioned she learned an important lesson from the defeat of cap and trade earlier this year – the importance of listening to the voices of constituents from across the state and endeavoring to incorporate diverse and sincere stakeholder concerns into her policymaking process. Notably, she also spoke of several productive meetings she has had with leaders of the #timberunity movement since the end of the last session that have helped her better understand the concerns of rural Oregonians.

House Speaker Kotek (D-N/NE Portland) and Senate President Courtney (D-Salem) both mentioned the importance of establishing and deepening existing public/private partnerships, especially in the areas of homelessness prevention and the development of affordable housing. The general consensus seems to be that businesses throughout the state are experiencing a marked competitive disadvantage when the talented individuals they are attracting are unable to find housing, making both instate moves and cross-country relocations difficult or impossible. Lawmakers touted recently passed legislation they say will help address the problem, including Senate Bill 608, which is intended to stabilize rental rates statewide and drive down the rate of no-cause evictions. The Speaker also referenced one of her signature 2019 bills – House Bill 2001. “We must have more choice than a single-family detached home and a large multifamily apartment building,” she said as she fielded questions about housing from Umpqua Bank CEO, Cort O’Haver.

Later in the afternoon, newly elected House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) was interviewed by Portland Business Alliance Chair and President & CEO of TMT Development Vanessa Sturgeon. The pair discussed issues relevant to maintaining Oregon’s reputation as a prosperous and livable state in 2020 and beyond. Representative Drazan spoke of her focus on policies and efforts that will ensure truly equal representation in Salem by being a voice for rural constituencies and the business community. “Jobs are created by entrepreneurs and businesses, not by politicians,” she said. She indicated she will continue to encourage her colleagues with urban and suburban constituencies to take a less agenda-driven approach to policies that make it more expensive to live in rural communities and she took care to direct an explicit “thank you,” to Oregon businesses for their ongoing economic and philanthropic contributions to the state and its people. Ms. Sturgeon’s closing comment was particularly memorable: “…on that positive and affirming note we so rarely get as businesses in Oregon, thank you, Representative, for all you do.”

By: Kyle Macadam, McMinnville Chamber Government Affairs Director