First the good news: Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian is in fact the most qualified guy around to fill the position of Oregon Job Czar—this according to a rigorous fake interview process conducted at last night's star-studded Brewhaha.

Bigwigs! From left: Sam Adams, small biz owner Lindsay Mico, Brad Avakian, Casino Bruce and Steve Novick
  • Bigwigs! From left: Sam Adams, small biz owner Lindsay Mico, Brad Avakian, "Casino Bruce" and Steve Novick

Now the bad news, which is considerably longer, courtesy of Oregon Employment Department workforce analyst Christian Kaylor:

- Portland's unemployment rate is 11.3 percent. That's about two percent more than the national rate, and twice as high as it was just last summer.
- In the last nine years Portland has achieved four percent growth in the number of jobs. That would be fine except that our population has shot up 20 percent.
- Not so shocking: decline in construction and manufacturing are two of the immediate culprits for our current predicament.

While Steve Novick of Our Oregon was quick to link Oregon’s weak economy to the national recession, Kaylor’s figures prove that there’s something uniquely downtrodden about Oregon, and Portland in particular.

Asked what’s wrong with Oregon’s economy, both Avakian and Novick stressed a public education that does not create the skilled workforce we need to create entrepreneurs and attract corporations. However, as emcee/interviewer Matt Davis pointed out, that conclusion becomes less automatic when you consider that only 44 percent of Oregonians actually come from Oregon (just 40 percent of Portlanders are Oregon natives), but more on that later.

More coverage after the jump, plus the fantastic results of our experiment in Blaze Streaming.

Mayor Adams’ response to the question of what's wrong with our economy was more Portland-centric, as was his casual "LOVE Portland" t-shirt. Adams argued that the national recession hit Portland extra hard. War drained federal funding for public programs, and did nothing to aid our economy given the lack of defense industry. He also griped that he has fewer funds to help existing Portland businesses expand than he does to attract new ones.

Similarly, Lindsay Mico, owner of small environmental consultancy Demeter Design, advocated for greater support for small businesses, such as a year of free accounting services from the state. Both Novick and Avakian criticized the workability of this idea, claiming it would take money from education.

Bruce Studer, who hopes to build a casino in Wood Village (near Gresham) didn’t beat around the bush. He used all his time to extol the virtues of said casino—job creation (2,000+), money for education (200 million +), and the rigid screening process for black-jack dealers (sorry Matt Davis). Unlike the nine existing, Indian-owned casinos in the state, Studer’s would pay taxes that could be distributed state-wide.

In all these accounts of what’s wrong with the Oregon economy, not one panelist mentioned the collapse of the timber industry. That seemed odd.

Then later, Brad Avakian did his Zoolander face, also odd.

After diagnosing the problems with the Oregon economy, the panelists moved on to the fixes. Novick used this time to hate on the movement to repeal the tax fairness package. Despite increases included in that legislation, Oregon’s corporate taxes are still the 49th second lowest in the nation. Instead of advocating for tax incentives, Novick and Avakian both pushed improving education as the key to attracting businesses.

Studer suggested that perhaps we should build a Casino. Perhaps. And if we do, let’s stream the action live!

Thanks to all the panelists, audience members, and live stream viewers for making last night such a success.

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