fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

This region has a stake in the Oregon Sustainability Center

and Wade Mosby

Portland and Portland State University are a long way from Southern Oregon, but a decision the Legislature will make (or not) in February to authorize bonding for the Oregon Sustainability Center will say a lot about our state's ability to hatch creative private-public, town-and-gown partnerships and grow jobs across Oregon. That's why we at Umpqua Bank and the Collins Companies are urging the Legislature to approve the $37 million in bonding for the OSC.

The OSC is a cutting-edge, ultra-efficient building that will be situated on the PSU campus, but it's also much more. It will also be a living laboratory, a university research center with classrooms, faculty offices, labs and lecture halls, and a showcase for Oregon's ultra-efficient building sector. As such, the OSC is about our state's capacity to still dream big and forge the kinds of university-industry partnerships that have defined other states and their economies.

States, through their university systems, have worked to build on their region's unique strengths with eye-catching results. Consider Massachusetts, Texas, Washington State and North Carolina. Our strength is in our internationally recognized construction, design and sustainable technologies innovation. The OSC will build on this — and create immediate jobs in the process.

An early analysis found the OSC will produce 780 jobs and $100 million in economic benefits. These opportunities and economic benefits will extend to places well beyond the Portland area. Private businesses, Umpqua Bank among them, have already seen opportunities to participate in the OSC as vendors, service providers, investors and tenants. For Collins and timber companies, the building can also serve as "world central" to demonstrate forest products that meet the goals of sustainability, local sourcing, beauty and structural capacity.

Sanyo, based in Salem, will manufacture the silicon used in the highest-efficiency photovoltaic panels atop the OSC. PV Powered in Bend could manufacture the building's industry-leading inverters. Sun Storage in Joseph is poised to make the racking system for mounting the OSC's solar panels. Orenco Systems in Sutherlin might work in developing its net-zero water system. It's impossible to say whether these Oregon companies — or other Southern Oregon companies — will land contracts if the Legislature funds the OSC, but we know they won't if the Legislature rejects this project.

Yes, some have argued the price for the OSC is high, yet it is not out out of line with similar private- and public-sector Platinum LEED buildings in Oregon. For example, the building at Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University's Medford campus cost $323 per square foot to put up in 2003 and would cost $386 per square foot to build today in Portland. The best comparison may be Oregon Health Science University's new Collaborative Life Science Building. It will average out to $464 per square foot.

The OSC's $434-per-square-foot cost ($474 with land) must also be seen in the context of the special nature of the project — a first-of-its-kind prototype that will be the subject of research and a magnet for visitors, researchers, developers and architects from across the globe. That's the key to this enterprise.

No, Southern Oregon won't be home to the OSC. But that's beside the point. The next "center of excellence" the Legislature considers just might be in Medford and Southern Oregon. Beyond that, this is no time for legislators or anyone else to wave off 780 new jobs and $100 million in economic benefits — anywhere in Oregon.

Ray Davis is president and chief executive officer of Umpqua Bank. Wade Mosby is president of the Collins Company, which specializes in Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood products.