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Economic development's high on labor commissioner's agenda

Oregon Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner says if he's going to head a labor agency in the state with the nation's highest unemployment, he should be more involved in economic development efforts

Gardner, who was elected to the job in November, was in Medford Tuesday meeting with his agency's staff, working to beef up the state's apprenticeship program and gathering support for his legislative agenda.

For starters on that agenda, the Gresham Democrat wants a seat on the Oregon Economic and Community Development Commission.

I believe we need to put the labor commissioner on the Economic Development Council, he says. We need more accountability in job creation in the state as a whole.

When the timber industry went into decline we were No. — in unemployment nationally. Then we had a major investment in high-tech. As it declined the last two years, we were No. — in unemployment for seven months in a row. We have to diversify our economy so that when the next national downturn comes we'll take our fair share, but never be No. — again.

Gardner served three terms in the state legislature before running for the post vacated by Republican Jack Roberts last year. The one-time electrician hopes to re-energize a bureau that countered governmental growth trends before economic times got tough.

His philosophical approach is antithetical to Roberts', who whittled away 29 percent of the Bureau of Labor and Industries and reduced agency employment from 159 to 108. BOLI offices were closed in Bend, Coos Bay and Pendleton. Offices remain in Portland, Salem, Eugene and Medford, although the local office has lost one of its seven employees during the state's cash crunch.

I see it as turning it into a Willamette Valley bureau, Gardner says.

He says that without more investigators on hand, the bureau will fail to resolve sexual harassment and workman's compensation claims in the mandated 12-month time frame.

If you reduce the number of investigators, it increases the timeline of getting to the next case, Gardner says.

But he is not without his owns ideas for streamlining the bureaucracy.

Gardner is asking the Legislature to transfer the Building Codes Division to BOLI's control, providing better linkage with apprenticeships and continuing education in the trades. Presently, Building Codes are under the governor's control.

Gardner says he was a proponent of uniform codes, inspections and permit buying in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

There were 36 jurisdictions, Gardner says. Now, you can apply for a permit in any one of those counties on your lunch hour.

There are 157 apprenticeship programs statewide with 17 available locally. Most are in the construction trades, but he points out that Bend's police department has one as well.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail .