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MailTribune.com
  • Valley's interests in Oregon business plan urgent

    Business leaders are keenly awaiting the action of Legislature
  • There are no easy fixes, no magic bullets or formulas to resolve Oregon's gaping revenue holes.
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  • There are no easy fixes, no magic bullets or formulas to resolve Oregon's gaping revenue holes.
    There is, however, consensus among state business associations on several components to provide the Legislature with needle and thread to begin mending a tattered system.
    A Southern Oregon version of the statewide Oregon Business Summit was held Friday morning at the Red Lion in Medford and simulated to some degree a larger gathering convened Dec. 3 in Portland.
    Gov. John Kitzhaber and business representatives have agreed that fixing the Public Employees Retirement System, bolstering education funding, and completing the Columbia Crossing bridge project are the top three priorities among many initiatives forwarded to the Legislature.
    While the Columbia Crossing is a long way from Southern Oregon, it's key to local businesses, as well as to the Portland area.
    Mike Card, president of the American Trucking Associations and president of Combined Transport in Central Point, previously indicated unclogging the state's primary link to Washington was essential to the health of his industry.
    Brad Hicks, chief executive officer of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, said part of the value of the business plan is its ability to bring people together in developing priorities. "I always think members of the business community have good ideas and good remedies," Hicks said after the event. "What keeps them awake at night is the Legislature's ability to embrace or act on those things. I've been pleased by the governor's willingness to embrace the priorities of the Oregon Business Plan and to work with the statewide business community."
    It's been 11 years since U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden initiated the first Oregon Business Summit. A bus tour promoted the event, and the local chamber was the first to endorse the idea. While the Oregon Business Plan has had a relatively modest impact, it has coalesced disparate interests into a more unified stance when asking for legislative action.
    "There is much-improved communication and collaboration between the business associations in the state," Hicks said. "Instead of 27 different voices, I would say as a statewide business community, we're doing a much better job of communicating with one voice."
    Legislators will have hundreds of bills in the legislative hopper when the session begins Feb. 4. A group of lobbyists led by Associated Oregon Industries will help shepherd the bills considered key by the business community, said J.L. Wilson, AOI's vice president of government affairs. He said people can follow the activity at oregonprosperity.org.
    Friday's session covered updates on transportation, education reform and workforce readiness, forest health and timber supply, as well as health care reform.
    Next week, the governor's 14-member panel is due to give its recommendations on challenges facing timber-dependent counties — most of them in Southern Oregon. The county governments have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in federal timber harvest payments because of cutbacks in logging on federal lands and have seen their communities lose thousands of manufacturing jobs.
    The O&C panel members were tasked with finding ways to improve financial stability, ensure adequate sources of timber to support local mills and jobs, and meet water and land conservation goals.
    "We've seen some timber sales, but not the volume we want," said Jeff Griffin, a regional coordinator with the governor's intergovernmental solutions team. "Hopefully, we're headed in the right direction."
    Local education and workforce development initiatives have made progress in bridging high school students into college years. "There are incremental things happening," said Bill Thorndike, head of the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. board and host for the session. "I've heard that in spades from friends in the educational community. It was refreshing for them to get up and talk about competencies being achieved."
    See more on the conference at blogs.esouthernoregon.com/southern-oregon-business-economy/2013/01/11/380/.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.
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