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Chair's Blog

Reflecting on what make us uniquely Portland May 2017
By DJ Wilson, KGW Media Group


At the Alliance’s 2017 Annual Meeting, one of the state’s largest gatherings of business, civic and elected leaders, I had the opportunity to reflect on my past year as chair and look toward the future. During the event, we also had the privilege of hearing from several former board chairs about what issues resonated most during their time. We underscored how collaboration is a true hallmark of the Portland spirit and we heard what gives these leaders optimism for the region’s future.

Working together, the business community and elected leaders have tackled many challenges such as economic growth, homelessness and equity. While we still have work to do in each area, it’s the collective desire to roll up our sleeves and get to work, time and time again, that has made Portland a stronger region. Those decades of work also define how the Portland Business Alliance became, and continues to be, the leading voice of business in this region.   

For example, Ron Beltz, 2001 chair, spoke about the organization’s early efforts to find solutions for a rising population of homelessness people, including inviting former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to speak on his experiences at the 2001 Annual Meeting. Ron was absolutely correct when he said that the city was not equipped to handle the need at the time, and while we have more work to do, today we are seeing renewed energy behind public-private sector partnerships as we all search for humane and safe housing solutions. The Menashe family’s Peace shelter, the Bushong building Peace 2 shelter and the new Shleifer building shelter were all opened during the past couple years as temporary shelters due to the business community’s partnership with the city, county and local outreach service providers.   

Another issue critical to this region is international trade. Randy Miller, 1988 chair, and Scott Andrews, 2005 chair, both named trade as key issues during their service. From partnerships formed with Japan to shift from the state’s dependency on the natural resource industry to NAFTA protests at the 2005 Annual Meeting, the business community has always been at the center, advocating for international trade as a cornerstone of the regional economy. While we saw the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership earlier this year, the Alliance remains dedicated to trade advocacy from awareness campaigns to annual international trade missions.  

At the Annual Meeting, we also reflected on the chamber’s historic transition to include more women and people of color among its leadership. We heard from the first female chair, and the first African American and Asian American chairs - Jackie Babicky, Sam Brooks and Sho Dozono respectively – who discussed issues like small business advocacy, and the Portland community’s collective support for victims and survivors of the 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Owen Blank, 1992 chair, recalls an institutional commitment during his tenure, to make inclusion and equity a focus, which continues at the Alliance to this day. My role as the board’s fourth female chair is proof that the work continues and must remain an area of intentional focus.

What ties together these issues and more, is the theme of the business community coming to the table to work with local and state government to solve issues that matter to Portlanders and Oregonians alike. When Marty Brantley, 1993 chair, spoke about how strong these relationships were 24 years ago and how government and business each understood what they could do for the economy, it struck me how resilient the fabric of our community can be. While the business community and elected leaders don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue, the Portland Business Alliance remains in a strong position to affect positive change. Not only did businesses come together to put an end to the costly and damaging Measure 97 this past fall, we remain unified today in our efforts at the state level to work with elected leaders to grow the economy, contain unsustainable cost growth, and then make investments with new revenue in targeted outcomes that Oregonians want and deserve in order to ensure a brighter future. Find out more about this latest effort at www.brighteroregon.com.

If you weren’t able to attend this year’s meeting, you can view some favorite moments from the event and watch our event videos to hear more comments from our past chairs.
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