What's the difference between Beaverton and Portland? Besides about a 10-mile stretch of Hwy 26, perhaps the fundamental difference can be summarized by Washington Square Mall. While Portland has fiercely clung to its independently owned boutique shops, surrounding cities have opted for chain stores and mega-outlets. Even many of the larger companies in Portland--Oregon Chai, McMenamins, Powell's--are locally owned.

But on Tuesday, Mayor Vera Katz announced the appointment of a so-called blue ribbon committee; over the next five months, the group will design an economic revitalization plan for Portland's next five years. If her past record with economic development is any indication, and if the plan reaches its goals, Portland could very well see that independent and unique soul gorged out and replaced with a store-bought identity.

"We're not talking about representatives from mom-and-pop stores," says Peter Alexander, a candidate for City Council, about the 18 members of the blue ribbon committee. "They're looking at how to attract another Intel or big corporation."

In the past eight years of Katz's tenure, the Mayor has relied more on well-heeled connection than on reaching out to the city's many and divergent attitudes. This favoritism and these shortcomings have been most apparent in economic development; stated in it most bald terms, the centerpiece for Katz's plan for economic development has been a desire to attract big corporations to the city.

Although the addition of Adidas promises an infusion of talent and revenue to North Portland, at the same time, Columbia Sportswear bailed from its original headquarters in the same part of town. Insiders at City Hall have pointed out that a primary reason for their departure was indifference and ignorance by Katz to Columbia's concerns and needs.

"By giving tax breaks to out-of-state corporations," continues Alexander, "we cut our own throats." Moreover, he explains, 85 percent of the city's workforce is employed in small businesses. Alexander believes that the city's economic growth should focus on internal resources like creativity and tenacity, rather than trying to import outside companies. From corner grocery stores to galleries, he is pushing for a one-year holiday from taxes for local, small start-ups (10 employees or less).

In announcing the appointment of her so-called blue ribbon panel, Katz stated, "the blame game needs to stop." In fact, now is when the blame game needs to begin. In spite of enjoying high marks for "livability," Portland suffers from one of the nation's highest rates of unemployment. As Katz tries to bait big-name corporations into town with the city's unique qualities, we jeopardize those very qualities that make the city what it is: an independent and entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of a Reaganomic, trickle-down plan--where the big businesses are meant to, eventually, benefit the masses--why not encourage more growth in the small-business sector?

Voice your opinion now. Contact the Mayor's office with your suggestions at 823-4120.