Tim Boyle: Portland leaders must address safety issues downtown (Guest opinion)
BY TIM BOYLEI love Portland. But as the chief executive officer of a company based here, I am concerned I may have made a mistake when we recently relocated one of our brand headquarters downtown. In fact, I am so concerned about the safety of our employees at the Sorel headquarters that we are taking the next 90 days to re-evaluate our location decision.
Earlier this year, we were thrilled to join with Mayor Ted Wheeler and cut the ribbon for our new Sorel offices downtown at Southwest Broadway and Taylor Street. Sorel footwear is a tremendous success story, a growing brand known for being the most fashion in outdoor and the most outdoor in fashion. Although it began decades ago in Canada as a functional men's footwear brand, it is in the creative Portland environment that the brand has been transformed and become a leading seller of fashionable women's footwear.
Our celebration of our new offices ended swiftly. We were immediately receiving reports from employees that they were being hassled, harassed and threatened by individuals near our office. A few days ago, one of our employees had to run into traffic when a stranger outside our office followed her and threatened to kill her. On other occasions our employees have arrived at work only to be menaced by individuals camping in the doorway. And our employees have had so many car break-ins downtown that we have started referring to parking in Portland as our "laptop donation program." Last night it happened again to one of our newest transplants to Oregon, a European who recently moved his family to Oregon. As he hosted one of our biggest customers downtown, his windows were smashed and his laptop and travel papers were stolen.
Given these experiences, it is a relief when the only thing we are dealing with is the garbage and human waste by our front door. Think about that for a minute.
This is outrageous and unacceptable. We are so concerned that we brought together senior management this week to talk through the challenges and options for addressing it, including a review of whether to stay downtown. Time that was to be devoted to discussing strategy for growing our business was spent on the much more pressing issue of keeping our employees safe.
We had already been at work on getting new security doors for our portico and long ago hired extra security. But those things are not enough. We cannot have our colleagues threatened -- or worse - as they go to and from work.
As Portlanders we have a lot of priorities, but if we cannot keep downtown safe what will become of our city?
Portland has fewer police officers today than it had when Bud Clark was mayor. At the same time, our population has grown dramatically. That is one part of the public safety challenge downtown, and it is one that should be easy for us to address.
Wheeler has put forward a proposal to the Portland City Council to add 80 police officers. Frankly, based on our employees' experiences, we would suggest even more support for the Portland police, but Wheeler's proposal is an important step and something that deserves prompt support.
I will end where I began. I love Portland. I have spent almost my entire life here, and our company has thrived and made its biggest investments here. We are not going to sit quietly while our colleagues at work are threatened, intimidated and worse. And the City Council shouldn't be quiet about it either.
Tim Boyle is president and CEO of Columbia Sportswear Company. He lives in Southwest Portland.