Mayor Sam Adams finally presented his economic development strategy to council last week—and unsurprisingly it was underwhelming. For six months, the mayor has been saying how terrible it is that Portland hasn't had such a strategy for a decade, but at this stage the new plan seems to be more about politics and marketing than actual job creation.
The plan aims to create 10,000 jobs in the greater Portland area over the next five years. To put that in context: Last year, 39,550 people moved to the greater Portland area, while at the same time, the greater Portland area lost 38,510 jobs. Other major cities also lost jobs at a similar rate in the recession. But we're expecting unemployment as high as 17 to 18 percent next year, with job growth at around 10 percent in the next five years, according to the folks from the Portland Development Commission (PDC) who presented the mayor's strategy to council. Compare that to a city like Austin, with an aggressive economic development strategy. Austin is expecting job growth of 15 percent over the same period, and it's clear that we're losing ground.
"We're getting a lot of attention, and that's great," said Erin Flynn, economic development director of PDC, introducing the plan. "But we know that the quality of life we've created here does not necessarily translate into job creation.
"The New York Times loves us. The Wall Street Journal ran a big article on us," Flynn continued. "The coverage we're getting tends to focus on lifestyle, on quality of life, and on our quirky bohemian character. We love that, but we also want people to know that we're a great place to do business, so we're going to be launching a campaign to that effect."
Oh, goodie. A campaign! The plan aims to focus on four key sectors: clean technology and sustainable industries, active wear, software, and advanced manufacturing. But is it really enough to just cross our fingers and make noise around the country about the few industries we've already got? As "strategies" go, ours sounds a little "quirky and bohemian."
Speaking of bohemian, Mayor Adams said an implementation plan for the strategy will kick off in the fall. In other words: We know we want jobs! We think we know where those jobs are going to come from! But we'll get back to you in a few months on how, exactly, all of this is going to work.
It seems Portland's economic motivation and sense of urgency is all used up for this year.