The lunch-spot of choice today seemed to be the Riverhouse Conference Center, where Governor John Kitzhaber addressed a couple hundred local business leaders and community members as the keynote speaker at the Economic Development for Central Oregon annual luncheon.
“Oregon is open for business,” Governor Kitzhaber proclaimed, enthusiastically beginning his address to Central Oregon. In his first official visit to the region since being elected to a third term, Kitzhaber immediately went on to highlight Oregon’s recent positive economic accomplishments, including being named the 6th ranking state in Forbes magazine’s “Best States for Business”. His enthusiasms emanated his belief that the state leadership must “tell a better and different business story” than the story of economic difficulty that has been recently and frequently portrayed.
“The bottom line is that Oregon is a small business state,” said Kitzhaber, “We need a robust and balanced profile to ensure sustainable economic development.”
He went on to emphasize that business development alone is not enough to sustain Oregon’s economic future, and that major faults in the larger systems of public education and healthcare need to be addressed and changed in order to assist in economic stability and growth.
“The systems we rely on are based on assumptions that came out of last century, and are no longer valid today,” said Kitzhaber, whose administration faces the challenge of keeping Oregon afloat in the face of a projected $3.5-billion shortfall over the next two years.
Likening the situation to an obstacle course, he said, “We need to let go of this rope to grab the other one.”
The new rope we need to grab onto for education, according to Kitzhaber, includes ensuring early childhood success in education, lessening the achievement gap and poverty instability, and developing a social service system that is accountable to and integrated into public education. Kitzhaber’s new rope for the healthcare system would focus on preventative measures for costly high-risk patients instead of expensive treatment procedures.
In light of upcoming budget decisions, knowing that our economic difficulties are at their root based on out of date, ineffective systems, Kitzhaber said.
“We need to build partnerships and coalitions that move past the partisanship of the past. We can do better, but we have to do it together,” he said.
As for Central Oregon specifically, Kitzhaber re-emphasized the need for community leaders to set a tone that welcomes thoughtful economic development, encouraged well-managed growth in support of local land use planning, and specified that businesses should contract locally whenever possible.