Media Room

Westside Economic Alliance Breakfast Forum

Thanks for having me today.

I’m happy to be the bearer of good news this morning: Oregon’s economy is strong and is growing. In fact, according to Bloomberg News, it’s the healthiest economy in the country.

Now – on the heels of this historic momentum – it is my priority to create an Oregon that thrives by sharing our economic success in every single corner of the state. Continuing economic growth by ensuring every community benefits from our progress and is more resilient to changing economic conditions. 

While state government doesn’t directly create jobs, we can lay the groundwork to make sure our economy continues to thrive:
By investing in a skilled and diverse workforce
By supporting our small businesses, entrepreneurs, and innovators
And, by investing in our infrastructure

I saw these needs first hand, right here in your backyard. Puralytics has developed an innovative approach to delivering clean water to communities around the globe.  And they’re applying it in surprising ways. Their most popular creations are plastic bags that use the power of the sun to purify a few liters of water. Puralytics has scaled their technology too. They are building compact machines that can process thousands of gallons at a time using LEDs.

The applications of this technology are endless – dirty water from villages in Africa to lead tainted water in the city of Flint, Michigan – they are making water safe to drink.
The state has already helped Puralytics grow with an investment from the Oregon Innovation Council and other small business programs. But, we can do more to grow business.

We surveyed 500 businesses across the state and I’ve talked to many myself. The one common thing I hear is that being able to hire skilled and talented employees is their biggest hurdle to growth.

So I’m working to deliver the best possible homegrown workforce by ensuring every student graduates high school with a plan for their future by investing in career focused education models.

We know that students who participate in CTE and STEM programs develop critical thinking skills, do better in math and reading, and are more likely to stay engaged in school. They graduate high school in higher numbers, and move on with a plan once they receive their diploma. 

In 2015, we expanded CTE and STEM programs so more students have the opportunity to have hands-on, real-world work experiences before graduating from high school or college. I’m working now to identify stable funding to get these programs in every school across the state.

I’m also working to make a college education affordable and accessible. Last year I signed the Oregon Promise program into law. It gives students the chance to attend community college for as little  as $50-dollars a term. We’re only the second state to do this and it’s been extremely successful already. Over 1,000 students applied for the Oregon Promise on its first day. We hope that soon, applying for the program becomes a normal part of being a high school senior in Oregon. 

Your help is important too. I encourage each of you and all of Oregon’s businesses to volunteer at their local schools, take on high school and college interns, and partner with the state to ensure students’ successful transition into the workforce.

As we work to provide talented employees for businesses to grow with, we also must support our small businesses, entrepreneurs, and innovators.

This is critically important; Oregon’s local businesses are an economic lynchpin. 

Ninety percent of Oregon’s businesses are considered small and we know that seventy percent of new jobs are created when existing in-state businesses expand.

That’s why I’ve convened the Small Business Advisory Cabinet. This group of business owners, investors, and state officials are looking into how Oregon can nurture our thriving economy. I’m taking this initiative very seriously and am working with them closely, attending each meeting, and learning quite a bit.

Celeste Edman, the CEO of Lunar Logic in Eugene, is a member on my cabinet. As a woman, she has a unique perspective on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in the tech world. There’s also Stephen Green – who many of you may know - of Elevate Capital. He’s helping us figure out how to fund innovators.

It’s a pretty raucous group. 

Together, our focus is making sure small businesses have access to capital; looking at the state’s role in promoting entrepreneurship and the mentorship of entrepreneurs; and tackling the regulatory challenges that are specific to small businesses.

We want to make sure our business are focused on creating black ink instead of wasting their time navigating red tape.

The cabinet will deliver recommendations to me by this October - in time to consider their ideas as I build my budget and legislative priorities for the 2017-2019 biennium.

I’m also working to support small business in underserved and rural communities. That’s why I’m committed to supporting transformative technologies like CLT – a new way to build tall structures using an old resource - wood. 

Oregon is strongest when each and every one of us has the opportunity to thrive, including our emerging entrepreneurs across the state.  If we unlock the potential of business owners  in every corner of the state, they can help contribute to Oregon’s economic success story. 

But, that story won’t have a happy ending unless our businesses have a functioning transportation system to get goods to market and people to work. That means we must tackle congestion, modernization, and seismic retrofit.

The scale of the issue is unavoidable, especially for many of you who travel on highway 26 and 217 every day. The traffic congestion is mind numbing. Currently, each commuter in the Portland Metro area will waste 52 hours of their lives each year fighting traffic. 
That’s more than a personal inconvenience. Businesses need to be able count on our roads as an asset to their bottom line, not a barrier.

I visited with Genentech in Hillsboro last year. They’ve made a big investment in their facility and are hiring highly skilled and highly paid workers. But, they need to be able to get their products to customers in a timely and reliable way. They can’t do that if their trucks are sitting in the Vista Ridge Tunnel.

What’s more, our roads will not stand up to a major earthquake either. 718 bridges on the state highway system need to be replaced, retrofitted, or rehabilitated for seismic resilience.

Together with the Oregon Transportation Commission and a variety of stakeholder groups, I will develop and present a transportation package to the 2017 Legislature.  

Each of you has a role in making this happen. Your job is to hold us accountable. Insist that your elected leaders take action in 2017 to address this mind-numbing congestion that degrades our quality of life and business’ ability to make a profit.

That’s how I plan to continue the unprecedented economic growth Oregon is experiencing right now: investments in a skilled and diverse workforce; supporting our small businesses, entrepreneurs, and innovators; and investing in our transportation system.

Thank you for having me and being a part of continuing Oregon’s historic momentum.