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Hopeful signs


The economic summit encouraged participants and observers alike

What do you get when you bring together 1,300 business leaders, politicians and state, federal and local officials from across the state?


And the hope here is that Monday's economic summit meeting in Portland was the beginning of a collaborative effort to help set the state's economy right.

The economic summit originated with Sen. Ron Wyden, who saw it as an opportunity to develop some consensus before the legislative session ' and the bickering ' begins. Wyden said he initially hoped to draw a few hundred to the daylong discussions, but as word of the idea spread, the number of participants ballooned.

Rogue Valley participants, mostly business leaders, came away encouraged by the conversation and the pragmatic ideas that surfaced.

This was not about developing a marketing campaign. Remember: Oregon. Things look different here. Yeah, different, as in the highest unemployment in the nation. Different, as in the shortest school year in the nation. Not a good kind of different.

So the talk was not about selling ourselves to tourists, but about creating an economic climate that will provide both the jobs and the tax revenue needed to make us different in a good way.

There was no suggestion that this will become a mad dash to overturn community and environmental protections in pursuit of jobs. No one is arguing that we must sacrifice clean air and water and livable communities.

But virtually every business person in the state who has tried to open a new office or expand an existing one can provide a litany of horror stories, whether they're dealing with federal, state or local regulations.

There's no logical reason that a business owner in Medford should have to spend more than six months dealing with city regulators in order to put up an awning. But that happened.

It makes no sense that a farmer in Jackson County should have to reduce the size of his farmable land because a subdivision was allowed to be developed across the fence. But it happened.

It makes no sense that millions of board feet of timber are left to rot after fires when at least some portion clearly could be salvaged in an environmentally sound way. But that is happening even as you read these words.

We did hear words that do make sense and that came from sometimes surprising places. Gov.-elect Ted Kulongoski was among those calling for protecting industrial lands and prudent forest thinning. Business leaders called for better school funding, because they know all too well the need for an educated work force. Some conservatives forced themselves to use the words sales tax, although they quickly linked the idea to a strict cap on total taxes.

One message from the summit was clear: Improving the business climate is not just a matter of profits. It's also a matter of providing funding for critical programs, from education to police protection to health care for seniors.

Like many states, Oregon faces a long climb out of the financial depths. While last week's summit had more to do with planning than with climbing, it did help the climbers see that we're all tethered to the same rope.

Some good news

Some good news this week: a parental consent initiative that would restrict minors access to health services failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The proposal, pushed by the conservative Constitution Party, would require parents' consent before minors receive any county services. It is aimed at preventing birth control or abortion counseling or services, but essentially would have prevented teens from getting any services from any county agency ' including the library ' without their parents' consent.

We think parents should be involved in their children's lives and in critical decisions involving children. But we also know this is not a perfect world and that some children will not or cannot involve their parents in matters involving sex, disease or health problems.

Blocking access to services for those minors would do nothing to stop risky behaviors, but would serve only to prevent treatment and to prevent the kind of counseling that would help reduce the likelihood of that behavior continuing.