The Deciding Factor

By Bridgete Lynch

Typically right around Labor Day, voters start turning their attention toward upcoming elections. And candidates pour their money—shaping up to be the most ever—into nearly constant television ads, while interest groups are out in full force. For most people September is the month the governor’s race comes into focus.

But for months now, Oregon’s business leaders have been considering the election and what it means for the state and their businesses. And although they come from different industries, different backgrounds and different political leanings, a few issues seem to percolate to the top. Here are the deciding factors for business leaders in their own words.

Education Reform

“When you are a business trying to attract and retain and grow talent in this community or this state, school systems are one of the things employees look at to say, ‘Do I want to live there? Are my kids going to get a good education if I go there?’ So that is a fundamental baseline business issue for us. And, is the school system going to be such that it will produce the workforce that I need from a business perspective going forward?
- Judy Peppler, President, Oregon Qwest, and Chairman of the Board, Portland Business Alliance

“We can’t have people ask about education, and we were in a Doonesbury cartoon. We’re sort of past that point now, but greater investment in pre-K through 12 is still critical.”
- Sho Dozono, President, Azumano Travel

“Our drop out rate is way too high. We don’t put enough people into college out of high school. It’s becoming a disgrace. Everybody knows that if you have a kid that graduated today at 18 years old, the chances of success in life without a college education fall to the bottom of the scale. And not preparing kids to go to college, let alone get them out of high school, is a criminal act of negligence. You can’t have 50 percent of your kids not go to college, or whatever it is, and a 30 percent dropout rate and not have that be a huge burden on themselves and on society. The long-term costs of that are huge, and yet we want it all for nothing.”
- Michael Powell, President, Powell’s Books

“We’ve gone from a school system in which school districts used to collect and spend their own money to now, basically, the state collects and the school district spends, and I think that is an antiquated system.”
Steve Emery, President/CEO, Earth20

Tax Reform

“Many of our businesses operate in multiple states; certainly Qwest does. And when you look at the economy in Oregon, roughly 20-25 percent is based in tourism. You really have to ask the question, ‘Does it make sense not to have a consumption-type tax to help fund your state operations?’ “We have one of the highest rates of marginal income tax in the nation. Is that a good thing? It is a very volatile revenue source, especially when 70 percent of the economy is reliant on that. You go into a recession, which is just the time when people need more services and just the time when your revenue sources are diminishing. Certainly the business community is looking at all that. Does it make more sense to cut the income tax and cut the property tax and perhaps cut a capital gains tax and replace it with some kind of a consumption tax? And is that even feasible to do politically?”
- Judy Peppler

“Part of our problem with state revenue is the cyclicality of having an income tax and property tax being the predominant feeders. We are one of the only states in the country that has such a poorly diversified revenue base. “The corporate kicker could be invested in a state stability fund. Our business leaders aren’t allowed to say that because it’s not their money, but those I have talked to privately say, ‘Keep my kicker check but only if you put it into a rainy day fund or an education scholarship fund or something to make kindergarten classes smaller’— something that is a no-brainer.”
- Scott Gibson, President, Gibson Enterprises and Chairman, Radisys Corp.

“The tax system here needs to at least be competitive with other locales for companies that compete internationally. This goes back to the business/transportation issues around people moving. At least 40 percent of our revenues come from outside of the United States, and 97 percent of our revenues come from outside of Oregon, so the tax system has to at least be competitive with other locales where we could go and run a business like that.”
- Tim Boyle, President, Columbia Sportswear

“When you compare our tax structure with the rest of the Northwest, it becomes obvious that ours is unfavorable. We are taxing production rather than consumption, which detracts from our economic growth.”
- Don Tykeson, President, Tykeson Associates

“Having been here my entire life, seeing us move to a sales tax just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. But we’ve got to do something because this just isn’t working. I’m feeling the pain on that. I’m the former president of Oregon Historical Society, and the lack of state support in the whole non-profit area is appalling. OHS is mandated by the state to archive important records and artifacts of the state. And they’ve been there for 106 years to do it. The state funded them for 103 years and then decided, ‘Nope, we’re not going to do it anymore because we don’t have any money.’ So here we are tin-cupping. It drives me crazy. Everyone I talk to in Salem says, ‘Yeah, it’s really important. We’ve got to do it, but… “It carves out a perception of a state that on the one hand people are intrigued by because we’re different, and we are all very independent. But then that spills over into we’re so different that we’re going to have a totally different tax system, we’re going to have a totally different way to fund education, we’re going to do everything so differently that it doesn’t work.”
- Bob Gregg, Executive Vice President and CFO, FEI Company

“Oregon is a marvelous place to move if you enjoy the outdoors, are retired or are not working for a living and need public services. In other words, it’s a great place to be if you can take from the system rather than be a contributor.”
- Bill Blount, Senior Vice President, UBS Financial Services

“Number one for our business and for the state is stabilized funding. Specifically, my belief is that we’ve got a lot of tourism—we’re investing to drive tourism. Here in Central Oregon, we live off tourism. A reduction in the income tax, a reduction in the property tax and an implementation of a sales tax—somehow try to pull that into a constitutional situation, which I know has been defeated a multitude of times. But I believe that one of the biggest issues we face when it comes to education, when it comes to public safety—everything that requires state funding—is a stabilized funding platform.”
Steve Emery

Transportation Infrastructure

“It’s a problem for businesses to be able to move goods in a timely fashion. It forces up costs because of delays, you have to put more trucks on the road to get the job done, you can’t get your product to where it needs to be in a timely fashion. That means you are out of inventory or it means you can’t supply goods, or they are late to the docks—and it is getting worse. The projections are that we’ll have another million people in this community, and if that happens without an investment in transportation infrastructure, you get massive gridlock. We know what it looks like, but we don’t know what to do about it because there are so few bucks in the pot. “So I am looking to a governor who at least steps up and at least describes the problem in a way I recognize, admits there is a problem and then says, ‘What can we do about it?’ and exercises some leadership. Whether it is a gas tax increase or a bond measure or whatever it is, something that says to business that these problems have to be solved. We can’t pretend they don’t exist or launch a program that has 50 million bucks in it and think that it is going to accomplish anything. “The states around us, California and Washington, are making infrastructure investments, and we’re not. Product will hit the Columbia River going south and start to creep, and it will come north with the same problem, and Oregon is going to be the weak link. Like education, transportation is woefully short of funds and short of attention. It’s not very glamorous, but it’s critical. I said to someone at a meeting recently that it isn’t an accident that when people go to war, the first things they try to take out are the bridges and the roads—that will bring a country to its knees. And if our transportation has deteriorated to a level that heavy trucks can’t use large parts of it or drive times become ridiculous, then jobs will go away, the investment goes away and slowly, or not so slowly, the community atrophies.”
- Michael Powell

“I went to the Mariners/Red Sox game in July up in Seattle. It drives me crazy that I have to drive to Seattle to see a baseball game, by the way. Anyway, a two hour and 45 minute drive is what it should be on Friday afternoon, so I got out of here at 1 o’clock so I could avoid the traffic. Four hours. It took me four hours. Everybody said, ‘Oh, of course, you got up in that Seattle traffic.’ “No. It was the 45 minutes it took to get from the Fremont Bridge to the Interstate Bridge at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday. I’d love to say it was a wreck or something, but it wasn’t. It’s just the way it is, and it’s just maddening.”
- Bob Gregg


“I think environmental stewardship is a real asset and has some long-term value to Oregon. Sustainability has been in our vocabulary for years, and it could really be core to our competitiveness. We’re not doing it because of a fad, and it doesn’t seem to be a strong suit for anyone else. States need to think carefully about their competitive advantage, and it’s critical that our leaders include environmental stewardship in their thought processes.”
- Karla Chambers, Owner, Stahlbush Island Farms

“Let’s make sure that the governor who is leading the state understands how important great outdoor places are and how important it is to have the access to the outdoors and all the kinds of issues that are around that. The governor needs to understand and provide great places for outdoor activity, not only for use of our products but also when we are trying to attract talent to the company. People want to come and work for an outdoor company and live in a place where it is easy to access the outdoors.”
- Tim Boyle


“Two years ago that didn’t even enter into what businesses were concerned about and today it’s a huge issue. Here in Central Oregon we have a major labor shortage. How do you start implementing a drug-free workplace when people are struggling to find employees? Ninety percent of all incarcerations in Deschutes County are drug-related so if we could eliminate that issue we could free up a lot of money for other services. We are working to come up with a template for businesses to be able to implement a drug- free work place as easily as possible. That’s a real issue.” - Steve Emery “The lack of a knowledgeable workforce that can pass a drug test is one of the biggest issues we face. We have basic labor force problems. There are cherries going unharvested in the Valley because there aren’t enough pickers. But the Oregon employment rate is tracking relatively high. We need to understand and address that.
- Karla Chambers

Land Use

“We need shovel ready sites, with less bureaucracy. We’ve had some horror stories about some incredible companies like Applied Materials who wanted to come here and thought it would take them years, if ever, to find an appropriate site within the urban growth boundary, so they built a much smaller presence. That is Oregon’s loss, and that happens a lot.”
- Scott Gibson

Health Care

“This was the first year since 1999 that we’ve not faced a double digit increase in the cost of our health care insurance. We try very hard to provide that for our employees, but we are seeing more and more Oregonians drop out of having any sort of insurance, which is basically a hidden tax put on all of us that do provide insurance—not so hidden any more. And I don’t know a good solution. People are talking about the Massachusetts plans, and I am adamantly opposed to the Massachusetts plans. I know some candidates are talking about expansion of Medicare/Medicaid and the reality is with the baby boomers growing, Medicare/Medicaid is going to run out of cash in the next 13 years or less. So I don’t know the solution on that one, and I haven’t heard one yet.”
-Steve Emery

BrainstormNW - September 2006

Follow Brainstorm NW on Facebook   Follow what is happening with Brainstorm NW through Twitter

Copyright  |   Disclaimer  |   Contact  |   Shopping