Media Room

Jackson County Chamber of Commerce
A Strong and Thriving Oregon –
Governor Kate Brown will discuss the opportunities and challenges
relative to Oregon's prosperity

AS PREPARED

April 13, 2015

Greetings.  Many thanks, Rich, for that kind introduction. It’s great to be back with the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, so nice to see so many familiar faces.

On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., I will have been in office for exactly two months.

A lot has happened in sixty days, although considering the controversy I inherited, a lot needed to happen, and quickly.

Assuring a fresh start for the people of Oregon was an important first step for me as Governor. So I immediately replaced several key staff positions and created a new one, the first senior policy advisor dedicated to ethics and public records.
 
Three state and federal investigations of the former Governor and First Lady were already underway when I arrived on February 18th; two more were initiated shortly thereafter.  We are cooperating fully, which includes responding to a huge backlog of public records requests and a federal subpoena that requires the legal review of more than one million documents.
 
Certainly, there is – and will continue to be – plenty of work to be done to resolve unanswered questions about the previous administration; work that will require the undivided attention of several members of my staff and, no doubt, the media, for months to come.

In the meantime, I am taking action to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. I have identified three main areas of concern:

One: Our public records law needs a thoughtful and informed overhaul.

Two: The role and expectations of First Partner as a public official need to be clear and reflect modern-day relationships.

And three, we must strengthen ethics laws to ensure transparency and accountability among public officials at all levels of government. 

In response to these three concerns, I have introduced three bills.

One requires the State Auditor to conduct an independent review of state agencies’ processes for responding to requests for public records.  Before we contemplate meaningful changes to improve our public records law, we need an analysis of current state agency practices related to cost, turnaround time and compliance with existing laws. Information from this audit will allow policy makers to make informed, fact-based decisions.

Two more bills strengthen the Oregon Ethics Commission and address important structural changes, such as distributing the power to appoint members of the Commission, and tightening timelines related to processing complaints. These bills also clarify the role and expectations of First Partner and increase penalties for knowingly using elective office for personal gain.  They also prohibit speakers’ fees for statewide office-holders and First Partner while in office. 

Oregonians have had cause to question their trust in state government.  The steps I have proposed will foster transparency and accountability.  That is the best way to demonstrate our commitment to restoring credibility and trust in the aftermath of the recent turmoil.

But it is important to remember that, during those distressing weeks of headlines announcing investigations and resignations, the rest of the state’s issues, needs and challenges didn’t go away.

And believe me, there is no shortage.  In fact, the Oregonian thoughtfully provided me with a to-do list, published the day before I was sworn in.  It covered everything from assembling a new staff to figuring out where to weigh in on all the different House and Senate bills.

And although the circumstances may have been less than ideal, let me just say up front: I don’t feel like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool – I dove in. 

And I did what I always do.  I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.  And in the past sixty days, in addition to addressing subpoenas and public records requests, I have also done a few other important things.  I have signed 26 bills into law, including the New Motor Voter bill, landmark legislation that will bring ballots to literally hundreds of thousands of new Oregon voters. 

I appointed Jeanne Atkins as Oregon Secretary of State. I joined many of you in mourning the loss of three great Oregonians: Brady Adams, Dave Frohnmayer and Gretchen Kafoury.  Their legacy of service and leadership has changed Oregon for the better, and they will be missed.

I also have declared drought emergencies in five Oregon counties, and expect to do the same in several more. I have made public service announcements about wildfire prevention and the importance of meningitis vaccinations for U of O students.  

I meet regularly with state agency heads and with legislative leadership regarding my budget and policy priorities. My package of ethics and public records bills has been introduced with bipartisan support and will testify at their public hearings.  Oregonians expect and deserve government accountability. The Legislature cannot go home until we get this done.

I have also discussed these bills with eight editorial boards from news outlets all over Oregon, and they have been very well-received. I meet with the Mail-Tribune this afternoon.

I’ve toured workforce housing, observed unmanned aerial vehicle demonstrations, and read Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go” aloud to elementary school students.  Plus, in my very first public appearance as Governor, I visited – without the media – Rosa Parks Elementary, a wonderful school in North Portland, where the students waved and shouted, “Hey, new governor! Hi new governor!” as I walked through the halls.  

On a ranch in Brothers, Oregon, I got down on my hands and knees, along with Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and we yanked out juniper shrubs.  Ultimately, we decided we should keep our day jobs, which doesn’t usually require the use of pruners.

However, we both felt quite comfortable handling a pen, and fortunately, we were there to sign an important document: a landmark agreement that will not only sustain the well-being of the sage grouse, a remarkable bird that makes its home in Eastern Oregon, but also the people and communities that share that home.

As of today, I have visited eight communities in eastern, central and southern Oregon and in the mid-Willamette valley. 

During those visits, in addition to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, I have met with:

• local elected officials
• teachers
• parents
• students of all ages
• school administrators
• tribal leaders
• ranchers
• irrigators
• business leaders
• older Oregonians in nursing care facilities
• and a group of exhausted firefighters, who had been working since dawn to put out a devastating fire at South Albany High School. 

So when people ask, “How’s it going?” – and they ask me this a lot – I feel like I’ve got a pretty solid answer: It’s really busy.

But the reason I wanted to recap those first sixty days in office is this: I have spent these past two months more immersed in Oregon than ever; my days entirely filled with the opportunities, dreams, challenges and achievements of middle-class Oregonians.  

And when I think about the state of our State, I’m thinking about you.

And I ask myself: what is the state of opportunity for working families in Oregon – the opportunity to 

• be educated for success in a complex, global economy;
• to find good jobs in your chosen communities;
• the opportunity to raise healthy families in safe neighborhoods
• the opportunity to plan for a comfortable retirement?

In short, what is the state of Oregonians’ opportunity to thrive?

Predictably, the answer is mixed, but it is trending in ways that are positive. 

For one thing, the state’s economy is making a comeback, with just 5.8 percent of Oregonians unemployed – the lowest level of unemployment in eight years.  Oregon’s gone from having the seventh highest unemployment in the nation a little over a year ago to a three-way tie for 20th with New York and Alabama. And this, by the way, is a race where we’d like to come in dead last.

What's more, Oregon-grown businesses are key to our economic recovery and eradicating unemployment: Seventy percent of new jobs in this state are created when established Oregon companies grow and expand.

After years of responding to the collapse of a natural resources-based economy in the 1980s, Oregon's economy now boasts a diverse manufacturing base and significant growth in high-tech hardware, software development, foods, and of course, athletic and outdoor gear.

In other words, in this state, we make things. Innovative, useful, marketable – and in some cases, delicious – things.

We manufacture silicon chips with a vibrant high-tech industry anchored by Intel's largest facility in the world; and all-natural potato chips at the world’s biggest producer, Kettle Foods. 

Oregon is a leader in food processing with literally tons of local berries, hazelnuts and wheat turned into countless products by ConAgra, Amy's Kitchen, Diamond Foods and hundreds of other food processing firms.  Their products are shipped world-wide.

A fast-growing aerospace and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or “UAV” industry also is rising up, with leaders such as Precision Castparts, Boeing and Cloudcap Technologies leading the way.

Let me take a moment to amplify this point:  The commercial UAV industry is projected to grow fivefold over the next five years, bringing high paying jobs to any region that has the necessary test site infrastructure. Currently, there are three UAV test sites here in Oregon, and they are the only ones on the west coast. I understand there is an effort underway to bring a UAV-manufacturing facility to Cave Junction as well. 

In March, I approved a half-million dollar forgivable loan to support a testing facility in Pendleton. This loan, coupled with additional support from Business Oregon means the City of Pendleton now has the financial resources it needs to continue the development of this site.

Rural Oregon is the perfect test bed to push the evolution in UAV technology into new areas like sustainable agriculture and forestry. These key opportunities are expected to be a big part of the estimated 100 family-wage jobs that this site –when fully developed – will create.

This new funding represents more than an investment in a few concrete pads and buildings. It proves that when presented with a unique chance to seize a moment in innovation, Oregon is poised to step forward to support the community leaders who are doing the hard work to develop a new industry in an important part of the state.
As we say at Business Oregon – your lead state agency for advancing Oregon business – we must ‘grow our own.’ (And just to be perfectly clear, this has nothing to do with Measure 91 – I checked.)

This state is home to a wide breadth of diverse and innovative industries, but there are five key industries where we have a global competitive advantage:

• advanced or ‘value-added’ manufacturing;
• clean technology and renewable energy;
• high tech;
• wood products – both in yield and in quality – and here’s a shout out to the re-opening of Rough and Ready Lumber in Cave Junction last year; and
• athletic and outdoor gear.

Not only is Oregon home to Columbia Sportswear, Keen and Nike, but also Adidas-America, Dakine and LaCrosse-Danner. (Oregon really likes feet, especially when they’re in motion.)

Business Oregon’s “Grow Our Own” approach to economic development calls on us to invest in Oregon-based industries and businesses, to work to retain them and help them grow and expand.  We also need to be innovative in fostering start-ups and attracting new companies to Oregon.
 
My priority is to ensure that the recovery is realized in every corner of the state.  It’s important that Oregon’s economy not only continues to recover, that it thrives statewide. 

Building a thriving economy requires this holistic approach that expands opportunities for Oregonians. It must also connect education, workforce skills development as well as infrastructure and transportation.

As we all know, a safe and efficient transportation system is essential to a strong economy and healthy communities. It helps to get goods to market, helps workers get to their jobs, and creates a desirable quality of life that attracts innovative people to our state.

Our transportation system has made Oregon an attractive place to do business—particularly for businesses dependent on exporting goods to national and international markets. State government plays an important role in helping local communities plan for and address transportation needs and solve problems.

The Regional Solutions Team, in partnership with Jackson County and the City of Central Point, has been supporting the efforts of a local trucking company to move operations from Crater Lake Highway to the Tolo Road industrial area.  The new location adjacent to I-5 will significantly reduce operating costs, reduce emissions, and reduce traffic congestion in a heavily used corridor. 

The Team also took a lead in partnership with others in developing the successful TIGER grant application that will pay for the improvements needed to reopen, later this year, the Siskiyou Rail Line that runs from Medford through Ashland and Yreka to Weed, California.  This project is aimed at supporting the local economy by reducing operating costs for shippers as well as, reducing traffic and emissions.

Both of these projects are great examples of public-private partnerships that leverage the Connect Oregon program and support the region’s economy.

Ultimately, when we look at our transportation system, we must be mindful of how Oregonians choose to get around.  No matter how we do — whether we walk to school, drive to work, catch a train for a family visit, or bike to the gym—the system we travel on needs to get us there safely. We need to invest in passenger rail, freight rail, bicycle routes and other transportation alternatives.

Looking ahead, however, the resources needed to expand, operate, preserve, and make much-needed improvements are non-existent, despite the fact that there are significant issues that must be resolved.

Just a few examples from this region:

Pacific Crest makes transformers for the North America and world market, employing about 140.  The company relies on strong connections and roads. To truck product east, they must use alternate routes because of restrictions on Oregon 140 east of Klamath Falls. They absorb the extra shipping costs in order to be competitive.

Here’s another example: Over the past five years, Harry and David Corporation is challenged by freight delays to the Port of Portland. During their busy season, October to December, 80-100 trucks per day move from the Medford headquarters, many bound for the air freight facilities at PDX. There are times when they’ve diverted their shipments to the Port of Oakland, California, instead of the Port of Portland, due to severe congestion and delays.

Amy’s Kitchen receives and ships product (averaging 30 trailer loads daily) throughout the year to markets throughout the West.  Amy’s uses inter-modal shipping via Portland. There is a trans-load facility to the west near I-5, but it would need to be improved to make that site work. They tried box cars, but found their products became compromised.  Their wish list for transportation includes: an upgraded intermodal facility, continue to build more truck ‘climbing lanes’; and expanding the Rogue Valley Transit District to their facility.

I visited the Medford Viaduct this morning, and now I understand why the Chamber has concerns about what might happen to it in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.  A seismic event could be disastrous, potentially leave the region isolated for months or years.

This is totally unacceptable.

These issues are real, and they are statewide.

So this is my wake-up call.  Now is the time for the Legislature to step up and make some much-needed investments. Passing a transportation package is among my highest priorities.  It will not be easy, but we cannot shy away from this important work. 

You all have long-supported Oregon and the Rogue Valley; your leadership has been crucial to ensuring bipartisan support for transportation funding. Let your legislators know how crucial this is to this region and the state. 

Ultimately, my legislative colleagues must choose to put the needs of the economy ahead of partisanship, and send me a transportation package to sign before the end of session.  As I’m sure you agree, this is critically important to Oregon’s future. Let’s get this done.

Wherever I go, I am still amazed by the diversity and complexity that makes this state such an incredible place to live.  As inspired as I am by the rugged beauty of Oregon, I am also aware that our way of life is being stalked by climate change. The evidence is compelling: record low snowpack, the warmest winter since 1895, and five Oregon counties in states of drought emergency before mid-April, with more on the way. 

I am very concerned about drought, and its nefarious companion, wildfire, not only for this upcoming summer season, but summers yet to come.  As you know, we cannot talk about prosperity and economic recovery without acknowledging the crucial role water plays in our quality of life and our livelihoods.  This may sound strange coming from the governor of the state probably best known for its high rainfall and lush, green landscapes.  But the threats to our water supply are all too real, as the people of this region have known for a long time. 

I have been thinking about the possibility of water shortage since my earliest days in office. I have assembled leaders from key state agencies, the Office of Emergency Management and our local and federal partners to take steps to mitigate drought and prevent wildfire – or be ready to combat it, when and if it should it occur. I would greatly appreciate your support on this package as well.

Additionally, I am thinking about future water shortages and the likelihood that Oregon’s population will continue to grow. My budget includes $56 million for a statewide water resources program. The program calls for collaborative, place-based planning for water conservation and storage and includes funding for implementing projects all over the state that result from the planning efforts.

My name is Brown. My state is green.  Let’s keep it that way.

Tomorrow is the first day of my third month as Governor.  My sense is that, as a state, we are through the hardest part. Although there is much still to be done, we are back on track, working together and moving forward. Ahead, there are blue skies and green lights. Condition stable; all systems go.  Let’s get there together.

Thank you.