The early draft of mayor Sam Adams and the Portland Development Commision's new economic plan reveals an ambitious goal: to become America's most sustainable city within just five years.
A draft of the five-year Economic Development Strategy, obtained by the Mercury last week, shows that despite an increasingly grim recession the city is banking on big green companies to eventually bring the city some big greenbacks—and 10,000 jobs.
"We basically need to be thinking ahead about what the economy is going to look like when we get out of the recession," said PDC planner Patrick Quinton on Thursday, February 12, addressing a small group of business leaders and CEOs who got a sneak peek at the draft document. "The 'aha!' moment came when we recognized that our sustainable culture is an economic advantage," Quinton said.
The plan, which is still taking input from stakeholders, is slated to go before city council in July. Job growth has stalled in Portland recently, while the city's population has continued to grow. But the plan hopes to create 10,000 jobs in five years by attracting headquarters for four "target" industries: clean tech, activewear, advanced manufacturing, and software.
However, some of the business leaders in attendance criticized the plan for focusing too heavily on luring big new green business to Portland, instead of lending assistance to the small businesses that currently drive the region's economy.
"This is a job creation document, but then hidden on page 15, it says small businesses create 75 percent of jobs," said Valerie Plummer, executive director of the Oregon Microenterprise Network. "There's a disconnect there."
Other business leaders questioned whether the focus on "green, sustainable jobs" would leave Oregon's other industries high and dry.
"Only 10 percent of our jobs are now green—this is excluding 90 percent of our jobs," noted Pacific Northwest Title Commercial Division Manager Eric Steinmeyer. "I walk through downtown and I wonder who's going to be able to fill up our buildings. Standard Life Insurance takes up two big buildings downtown. It's not sexy, it's not green, and it's not necessarily sustainable.
"There are a lot of companies that are left out," Steinmeyer continued.
The economic plan also supports establishing "eco-districts" in the Rose Quarter, South Waterfront, and near Portland State University to pioneer innovations in sustainably minded city planning and build the "attractiveness of Portland to the educated, creative class."
Mayor Sam Adams' office is playing a guiding role in developing the plan. "Sam wanted not a laundry list but a real strategy, based on data and research," says Kimberly Schneider, Adams' economic development director.