Central Oregon City Club
I’m pleased to be here with the City Club of Central Oregon.
As you may know, I recently wrapped up my first complete legislative session as Governor. I could not be more excited to breathe in the fresh air of the high desert. I only wish it included some runs down Outback and Northwest! Here in the shadows of Mount Bachelor, near the banks of the Metolius, it’s impossible to ignore just how special this region is.
In many ways, it represents Oregon at its best: There’s Summit Express for skiers, Barney Prine’s Steakhouse for foodies and the resort at Kah-Nee-Ta for little kiddos. From porters to powder, there are seemingly endless opportunities to relax and recreate, but also to create. To create communities, livelihoods and lifestyles that are emblematic of Central Oregon.
There’s a bumper sticker I see on a lot of cars these days, and it’s the outline of the state of Oregon with a green heart in the center. And that green heart is located right in this region – Central Oregon, the heart of our state.
The centrality of this region is more than merely geographic. It represents an intersection of Oregon’s past and present. The signs could not be more prominent – from Black Butte Ranch to the stands of ancient ponderosas.
A walk in these woods prompts us to recall the first residents of Central Oregon – members of the Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute tribes – as well as the pioneers that later crossed into the territory. Their legacies shape how we live today.
From native people, we can learn resiliency, resourcefulness, and reverence for the beauty and bounty of Central Oregon. It’s found at the top of the Cascade Range as well as on the shores of the Deschutes. We cannot forget the important lessons of the past.
We may seek inspiration from those early pioneers whose imagination, ingenuity and intrepid spirit spurred them across a continent to Portland as well as to Prineville. Despite towering peaks, raging rivers and expansive deserts, they relied on each other to overcome these obstacles. They couldn’t see the final destination, but that didn’t stop them from taking step after step towards the horizon.
As Governor, it has been my mission to implement what I call ‘the Oregon Way’ – to prioritize progress over politics; to bring Oregonians together to solve problems; and to think about the needs of future generations now.
Thanks to the efforts of many Oregonians, some of whom are in this room, we are making progress. Over the past year – and in the months to come, we have and we will continue to take steps to expand opportunities for all Oregonians to thrive. We are improving our public schools, building Oregon’s economy in every corner of the state, and preparing for the immense challenges brought about by a changing global climate. This afternoon, I want to highlight the signs of this progress that are evident right here in Central Oregon.
Here’s a great example: Austin Smith.
Born in Warm Springs and a current Bend resident, Austin personifies Oregonians’ ingenuity and resourcefulness. Time and time again, Austin has forgone the easy path and, as a direct result, has made a lasting impact on his family, community and this region.
In high school, Austin sought an internship with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ Natural Resources Department. After earning his high school diploma, he courageously served our nation as a Marine in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Later, he returned to study at OSU-Cascades, graduating in the class of 2015 with a bachelor of science degree in natural resources.
Presently, Austin works as a wildlife technician supporting the tribe’s efforts to restore ‘first foods,’ such as elk, salmon and berries, to their natural ecosystems. He’s now a part of the same department he interned with several years ago.
Austin is here today – Austin, would you please stand? Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking him for letting me share his story. [lead applause]
That 30,000 foot overview of Austin’s impressive career doesn’t tell the complete picture. A closer analysis of his story shows how communities, businesses and government can work together to assist young Oregonians in reaching their potential.
To make more stories like Austin’s possible, Oregon must take steps to improve our high school graduation rate – currently one of the worst in the nation. This is unacceptable. Increasing the number of students who finish high school is my top education priority. They need to be ready: ready for college, post-secondary training, or the world of work.
But, as study after study shows, we must start early in every child’s life. Over half of young children in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson Counties as well as in the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs struggle to meet early learning milestones that indicate that a child is “school ready.” What’s more, as of 2014, only 27 percent of children in Jefferson County were enrolled in high quality childcare or early learning programs, the percentage was 35 percent in Deschutes but, much more positively, 77 percent in Crook.
Thankfully, in the 2015 session, we put one hundred million dollars into early childhood education and made other investments we know will make a positive difference in our kids’ educational success.
You’ll see it in the efforts of the Early Learning Hub of Central Oregon, and in all-day kindergarten classes at Sisters Elementary. Oregon leaders have been talking about funding all-day kindergarten since the early 70s, but in 2015, we finally got it done.
These critical early investments help close the opportunity gap for Oregon students before it has a chance to take root.
Another crucial resource for our kids’ academic success is excellent teaching. It’s the educators in the classrooms that transform dollars into diplomas and grants into graduates. We’re fortunate to have teachers who go above and beyond their job descriptions. They’re mentors, innovators and educators. They make a difference in Oregon classrooms every single day.
To support our most valuable education asset – educators – I created the Council on Educator Advancement. The Council will develop a continuum of professional development to make Oregon’s education workforce the best and strongest it can be.
After all, who in this room today has not been inspired – even transformed – by a talented and caring teacher? I know I have.
From first grade at Fossil Elementary, to middle school in Maupin, to college at COCC, Oregon’s education system must be comprehensive, competitive and collaborative throughout. And no one knows that better than the Cascades Commitment Consortium, which, for nearly 4 years, has guided Central Oregon students at each step of their educations, pointing them to the next stage and providing them with the experiences they need to achieve their aspirations.
To strengthen efforts towards a seamless education and to bolster programs like the Cascades Commitment Consortium, I signed a historic $7.4 billion K-12 education budget last year – the largest in Oregon history.
This investment, together with the expansion of wrap-around services, represents a notable step forward in increasing the number of high school graduates. Then add my new Education Innovation Officer to the equation. This officer will hold our schools districts accountable and spark year by year improvements in graduation rates. I wasn’t a finance major but I know that investing in our future – in the students of today – will make Oregon a more prosperous place tomorrow and for the days and decades ahead.
Too often high school graduation is perceived as a finish line. High school graduation is not a finish line; it’s a launch pad.
Let’s return for a moment to Austin Smith.
As a freshman in high school, Austin landed an internship with his eventual employer. Surely, the day-to-day learning he did there, not only in the classroom, but on the job, helped him discover and pursue his career path. I will continue to support and fund programs that bridge the gap between students and startups, employers and future employees. These initiatives will go a long way towards creating a diverse and talented workforce that meets our employer’s needs.
For that reason, when the Oregon Promise bill landed on my desk in 2015, I quickly signed the transformative legislation into law. Now, high school graduates can attend community college for as little as $50 a semester. $50 dollars! This opens the doors of opportunity for more students to pursue a college degree or post-secondary training.
Many Central Oregonians have already seized the chance to attend community college through the Oregon Promise. As of March 1st, the deadline for the inaugural year of the program, over 1,000 students from Jefferson, Crook and Deschutes counties had applied.
In 2015, we also expanded the Oregon Opportunity Grant. As a result, an additional 16,000 students can study at one of Oregon’s public or private universities. I will continue to fight to keep college affordable for Oregonians.
Oregon’s students need skills that transcend their classroom walls and prepare them for careers that haven’t even been imagined. That’s why I’m thrilled to see the seeds of STEM and CTE programs being planted throughout Central Oregon.
Students learn to make guitars in Sisters, repair cars in Redmond, and design and build birdhouses in Culver. In fact, the Culver School District embodies regional collaboration awakening students to the power of their own potential.
A combination of state support, an audacious superintendent and the community-focused staff at OSU-Cascades creates the perfect mix to empower Culver students to attain new heights and to venture down unexplored paths. The fruits of these efforts are already apparent. The Culver School District rightfully earned a five hundred thousand dollar grant in 2014. With this additional support, they converted their lofty plans for a STEM-centric curriculum into a reality. These partners and courses show students how homework later becomes real work in the “real world.”
Earlier, I mentioned the seeds planted by these educational investments. One can only imagine what will sprout from these buds – hopefully more graduates like Austin – dedicated to their community and prepared to enter the workforce. One can also imagine them producing more people like Nicholas Hill.
Nicholas personifies the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of this region. It is difficult to talk about Central Oregon’s economy without making note of its impressive startup culture.
This culture of risk-taking and job-making did not appear out of thin air. There’s an infrastructure here that reinforces the entrepreneurial energy found in La Pine, Warm Springs and Paulina.
• It’s businesses like Eloquent Expressions coaching others to start their own.
• It’s the staff at COCC’s Small Business Development Center tailoring their expertise to an entrepreneur’s needs.
• And it’s new programs like ComCap providing nontraditional capital to grow a good idea into a profitable one.
Launching your own business is hard work. Achievement is not an accident; success takes more than serendipity. My aim as Governor is to make sure state government adds value to Central Oregon’s economic enterprises. So, in February of this year, I expanded the Office of Small Business Assistance and created Oregon’s Small Business Advisory Cabinet.
Together, these actions will help bring entrepreneurial ideas to life, and help small businesses focus on black ink by cutting red tape.
Creative innovation is already a trademark of Central Oregon, from MacDougall & Sons nearly unbreakable baseball bats to Straw Propeller’s Blueberry Blitz oats, to Venus Motor’s electric vehicles.
Small and large businesses alike are expanding here. Across the region, seasonally adjusted employment grew by over 2,700 jobs in 2015. We’ve seen employers from Apple to Facebook hiring in Prineville, attracting a skilled labor force with the potential to earn high wages.
Innovation emanates from places like Bend Polytech, inspiring companies in San Francisco to relocate their workers and their operations to the heart of Oregon. When considered as a whole, I’m not shocked by the rumors that Central Oregon may soon join California’s Silicon Valley and Washington County’s Silicon Forest as Oregon’s Silicon Desert! I should note that the folks in Eugene wouldn’t want me to leave out the Silicon Shire.
My hope is that we can create an atmosphere in which Oregon’s tinkerers, thinkers and dreamers can take risks without trepidation, recover from any setback, and rally when things are clicking right along.
Once again, there is a Central Oregon case study that gives us an example of what this partnership should look like: DrinkTanks. Founded in 2013 by Nicholas Hill and his late father, DrinkTanks is a Bend-based company. It produces an ingenious product crafted in a sustainable manner by local workers. They make reusable, portable growlers – called the Juggernaut and the Kegulator – to keep all those fabulous Central Oregon craft brews cold wherever you go. Their sales are off the charts.
Support from Business Oregon propelled DrinkTanks in its earliest days. A $200,000 low interest loan from the State Small Business Credit Initiative helped turn jots on paper into literal Juggernauts.
Extra capital in hand, DrinkTanks was able to drastically scale-up. They opened new distribution channels and hired additional staff. As a result, the company is now sending Kegulators across the West.
This story – innovative funds backing flourishing startups – has been repeated on numerous occasions. As of 2014, Business Oregon distributed more than $90 million in private sector financing to more than 160 Oregon small businesses.
The government did not devise plans for more portable growlers, the Hill family did. The government did not create a thriving local, small business, Nicholas did. However, state government did give DrinkTanks a slight boost to reach the next threshold of success.
Simply put, government is not reinventing the wheel. It’s – it’s the continually creative folks found throughout this room who drive Oregon’s diverse, expanding economy.
The Small Business Advisory Cabinet will help identify more ways we can help people like Nicholas share their ideas around the world.
Our small businesses need educated, vibrant workers to build new projects too. And our workers need housing and wages to build their futures.
• Too many Oregonians make too little to get by.
• Too many Oregon students have no roof over their head.
• Too many hardworking Oregonians face hurdles to finding and keeping an affordable home.
My administration has addressed both of these essential components to a vibrant workforce. We secured legislation that replaces antiquated regulation with incentives to build more affordable housing here and across the state. And I signed minimum wage legislation that recognizes the differences in Oregon’s regions while providing our workers with a financial lift to help them thrive.
To grow our own – to support Oregon businesses – we have to care for our own as well. We must continue to consider how more Oregonians can gain housing and financial security.
It’s important to note that Oregon’s beautiful and diverse natural environment is integral to the success of Oregon businesses, to the health of our children, and to our ability to sustain our high quality of life. Protecting and conserving these environmental assets and resources is more important than ever.
This region’s history of resiliency, resourcefulness and reverence for responsible stewardship has already influenced the efforts of the state to plan for the future.
The facts are simple: We can’t prevent drought, but we can mitigate its effects; we can’t stop earthquakes but we can prepare for them; we can’t make forests flame retardant but we can properly manage them.
Every community has unique water resource challenges. That’s why, in the 2015 session, we invested $51 million in community-based water management planning and infrastructure. And why, in February, we funded a task force to study how best to mitigate the effects of drought and secured the passage of a $700,000 drought package. These funds will allow communities to implement place-based planning efforts across the state as early as May.
Consider that last year the Three Sisters Irrigation District had to cut water allocation rates to farmers by 70 percent due to low snowpack in the Cascades. Similarly, last year, the severe lack of water throughout this state spurred me to sign drought declarations for eight counties…in April and May. I signed even more as the dry summer months wore on.
I’m ready and eager to work with local and federal organizations to jointly enhance Oregon’s adaptability in a world of ever-changing conditions. Although we’ve had pretty good snowfall this year and despite federal funds essentially disappearing, state monies still assist local organizations like the Deschutes River Conservancy.
Under Ted Heisler’s leadership, the DRC has followed the Oregon Way by organizing a collaborative water management process. Heisler insists on bringing all stakeholders to the table; compromising rather than combatting; and, again, placing progress over politics. His roundtable approach has been instrumental to restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin.
The results of working together are visible in places like the Whychus (pronounced, “WY choos”) Creek in Sisters. In the past, by the time summer rolled around the creek was completely dry, imperiling the health of native fish populations. The health and flow of that creek has notably increased over the course of the past several years thanks to stakeholders like the DRC, the Three Rivers Irrigation District, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and the Deschutes Land Trust making it a priority.
Now the creek’s streamflow, in compliance with state standards, supports native fish populations like salmon and steelhead. This turnaround is a testament to the effectiveness of the Oregon Way.
I am also painfully aware of the toll forest fires have taken on Oregon’s Central, Eastern and Southern communities, mostly in recent years. Last year, 86 percent of aerial forest fighting in Oregon took place east of the Cascades. Unfortunately, we are fighting an uphill battle. According to National Geographic, early snowmelt alone has lengthened the fire season in the Western United States by 70 days since 1970. Today, wildfires, on average, burn twice as much land every year now as they did 40 years ago. These conflagrations drain our Department of Forestry’s budget, displace our communities, damage public and private property, and devastate our forests.
I will continue to do everything in my power to reduce the acreage burned, lives lost and families made homeless because of wildfires.
Words cannot describe the loss I saw in Grant County sparked by the Canyon Creek Complex fire. This February, those losses propelled me to champion increased funding for wildfire mitigation and to sign legislation that will reinforce local organizations on the frontlines of wildfire prevention.
My overarching goal is to expand opportunities for all Oregonians to blaze their own trail. As the Governor of the whole state – Ashland to Albany, Bend and Beaverton, Pendleton and Pistol River – I am aware of our immense diversity. Our regions are defined by different economies, ideals and cultures, which makes our state so unique. But no matter where I travel or who I talk to, Oregonians have an underlying commonality that continues to shine through – we love Oregon and we all want to keep it special.
The stories of contemporary trail blazers – such as Austin, Nicholas and Ted – underscore our state’s culture of ingenuity, intrepidness and innovation that is so evident in Central Oregon.
These stories must be shared broadly. By studying the lessons of the past and the conditions of the present, we can look to the future with hope. Hope of an extraordinary Oregon, one where everyone has opportunities to thrive.
Thank you for your time; for your service to your community; and for your commitment to the future of Oregon.