2022 State of the Alliance presented by Board Chair John Maher

2022 State of the Alliance presented by Board Chair John Maher

Portland Business Alliance Board Chair John Maher remarks given at the June 30, 2022 Annual Meeting.

Hello everyone and thank you again for joining us today for this special Annual Meeting, presented by U.S. Bank.

It’s so great to be back together and feeling the wonderful energy and strength of our Alliance membership.

Over the past year, I have had the great pleasure to serve as board chair for the Portland Business Alliance, greater Portland’s chamber of commerce. And today, as my final official act as chair, I have the honor and privilege to share with you some of the highlights of the remarkable work that we have accomplished together.

But before I ground us in why these accomplishments matter, I want to take a moment to highlight who we are as an organization. The Alliance is comprised of more than 2,100 organizations from across our region. Over the past year, we've added an additional 124 businesses to our coalition. Of these new members, 35 percent are owned by people who are black, indigenous, or people of color. And 40 percent are owned by women.

Internally, the Alliance is powered by 25 employees across three affiliated entities:

  1. Partners in Diversity
  2. Downtown Portland Clean & Safe
  3. And the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce.

Some of you may recall that in 2018, at the height of historic economic expansion, the alliance launched a concerted effort to ask our stakeholders: “Who are we?” and “Who do we want to be?” Those two critical questions launched us into two years of work what would yield our 2020-23 strategic plan – A plan that is grounded in the Alliance’s mission to create opportunity and advance well-being for all who live and work in the greater Portland and Southwest Washington regions - and a vision for a healthy and resilient business ecosystem.

And while our Alliance could never have foreseen the unprecedented challenges that the covid-19 pandemic would bring our way, we did respond to these challenges head-on and with tremendous success.

In particular, over the past year, the Alliance has advanced our region’s efforts toward rebuilding and recovery, and we’ve done this with the foundational value of equity in focus.

The Alliance’s fiscal year started with a big win.

Some of you may recall the challenges around the renewal of the enhanced services district contract for Downtown Portland. The Alliance persevered despite the voices of a few who strenuously opposed not only the renewal of the district, but its existence altogether. We faced strong headwinds - including reputational attacks on our board and staff - and false narratives around the good work of our affiliated partners at Downtown Portland Clean & Safe. We ultimately secured a 10-year contract to continue voluntarily contributing 6.5 million dollars annually toward providing extraordinary services to the people, places and businesses within the 213-block area in the heart of our downtown.

On behalf of a grateful business community along with the residents, tenants and property owners of downtown Portland, I want to thank our city council members for renewing this critical partnership.
“but for” the efforts of the Alliance and our Clean & Safe team, none of this would have been possible.

Imagine Downtown without Clean & Safe?

  • 22,367 bio-hazards cleaned
  • 35,127 graffiti tags removed
  • 82,166 bags of trash removed
  • 182,127 needles collected

A tremendous effort, for sure, by the Clean & Safe team. Bravo!

The Alliance’s affiliate, Partners in Diversity, also experienced great wins this year!

The team now has a record 400+ member organizations, spanning Oregon and Southwest Washington, who are dedicated to creating a workplace where everyone feels they belong. This year, Partners in Diversity hosted 28 events that educated employers on best diversity, equity and inclusion practices – as well as events that help build a feeling of belonging among employees of color.

Their signature event: Say Hey!, which is the largest multi-cultural networking event in the region, honored 127 professionals of color who recently moved to Oregon or Southwest Washington. It is critical to warmly welcome these new professionals and help them feel at home… to develop personal and professional connections so they remain in our region.

Over the last year, Partners in Diversity also continued to add to its new community resource groups initiative, which launched in 2021 with the black and the Asian Pacific Islander community resource groups. This year, they added the Latino community resource group – and plans to create the Native American community resource group next fiscal year.

So many great things are happening!

If you’re not already a member of Partners in Diversity, I highly encourage you to join and take part in its educational programming to help your organization enhance DEI efforts. I’ve personally participated in the DEI cohort for CEO’s through Partners in Diversity in the past year and have found great value in that experience.

Your chamber has also pushed forward a strong policy agenda through the great work of our government relations committee.

Every year our board adopts a set of policy priorities. This year, those priorities were laser-focused on restoring Portland to a vibrant, safe and attractive place to live, work and play. The Alliance worked tirelessly to deliver on these priorities. Here are some outcomes of that work on your behalf:

With regard to restoring a clean, safe and vibrant central city for employees, residents and visitors:

The Alliance’s advocacy efforts have resulted in over $100 million dollars in livability and public safety investments to our city, county and state directed toward the restoration of our region.
As part of these efforts, we asked that the State of Oregon allocate $10 million dollars to metro in support of the cleanup of Portland. The governor heard us and the dollars have been made available to METRO – that's huge!

Concerning public safety - in addition to resources for our police, for the first time in recent history, the county is investing in the expansion of the district attorney’s office which will include neighborhood DA’s and a dedicated office in old town.

Concerning homelessness and the humanitarian crisis on our streets - our advocacy efforts have yielded a string of executive emergency orders; the city has enacted safe rest villages, and the city, county and state have generated a record amount of shelter capacity that has been funded - and that opened- this year.

In addition to our investments in livability and public safety, our advocacy has yielded significant support for region-changing infrastructure projects the alliance has successfully advanced:

  • Breaking ground on the Abernathy Bridge
  • The inter-governmental agreement for moving forward with the Rose Quarter project has been approved by the City Council
  • And the I-5 bridge’s safety and capacity improvements are gaining real traction

Collectively, these investments are unparalleled in Oregon’s history, and the resources are coming right here to Portland and to our communities.

Aside from these key priorities, we know that inflation and cost of living are top priority areas for both businesses and residents. Even prior to recent inflationary trends, the region’s cost of living increased faster than incomes, particularly at the median and below levels on income distribution, and this disproportionately impacts diverse communities.

In February, the Alliance released a powerful state of the economy report, handing down a brutal, but honest assessment of our region’s challenges. Leading with evidence-based and data driven advocacy is critical to successful partnership with the public sector.

I would like us all to acknowledge that this is the first time in a major election cycle that voters in the region will not be considering a major new tax proposal by government on the November ballot.

This is your voice at work!

Year in and year out, the Alliance works on your behalf to advance key issues of the day. However, if we are to make systemic changes to the fundamental inequities in our economy, then we have to take a long view and commit to investing in communities of color so that all our residents can prosper.

In 2020, a coalition of the Alliance’s black board members joined together to issue a powerful call to action and statement called “the invisible knee.” Driven by this call, the Alliance committed to a multi-year plan focused on utilizing public-private partnerships to influence policies that improve and promote economic prosperity and resiliency for black-owned businesses and black residents in the Greater Portland region.

Spearheaded by the Alliance and the National Association of Minority Contractors of Oregon, the Black Business Association of Oregon was developed. This effort has been a true public-private partnership - raising nearly 1 million dollars in grants and contributions led first by our board, then joined by philanthropic and public-sector partners.
Seed funders for this initiative included:

  • Alliance board members and their companies
  • The Black Indigenous People of Color Caucus of the Oregon legislature led by Representatives Bynam and Nosse and Senator Jama
  • Meyer Memorial Trust
  • Google’s Tidewater Foundation
  • Kimberly Branam and Prosper Portland and Mayor Wheeler and the City of Portland
  • And Jessica Vega Peterson and Multnomah County.

Each committed significant investments toward this initiative.

Additionally, we were recently informed that Senators Merkley and Wyden submitted a special appropriations request to provide federal funding for this program – thank you to our senators for their support of this work!

Joining us here today is Lance Randall, BBA Oregon’s first executive director who is leading the charge in advancing a regional black economic prosperity agenda. Lance, wherever you are, please stand up to be recognized for this important work.

All of this great work is punctuated by a strong financial year for the Alliance.

Beyond that, we’ve celebrated the grand re-opening of newly minted Brown & Brown conference room, which is available to members for meeting space. An equity council that is determined to grow and advance DEI practices across the organization and reflect them back to our community, Meaningful events and activities throughout the year that prioritize equity across all our work, and members who are more committed than ever to standing alongside the Alliance to advance our mission, vison, and goals.

The Alliance is getting the job done. And our work is being recognized around the country.

I’m proud to report that the professional association for chamber professionals, the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, has recognized the Portland Business Alliance as a finalist for its prestigious chamber of the year award. This is the first time in our organization’s history that we’ve been a finalist – and we’re going to Indianapolis in July where we plan to pick up that first-place trophy!

In closing, I’d like to thank the staff of the Alliance for all their work in delivering the outcomes I’ve had the pleasure to share with you today. And I’d like to thank their families who support them in the challenging work that certainly doesn’t stay within the confines of 9-5.

I’d also like to thank the board – and, in particular the committee chairs and members who volunteer to put in extra time making sure we’re informed and prepared to make the important decisions that guide our organization on behalf of our members.

I’d like to thank Mike Golub. He’s the “big toe” if ever there was one, and he’s been a great sounding board for me across this past year. And thanks Mike for letting us gather in your house today. You did a nice job of cleaning up after last night’s game.

Lastly – and most importantly – I’d like to thank our members. Your commitment to this community – and your financial commitment to our organization – make all of this possible.

Thank you, all for sharing your time with me. I encourage all of you to stay connected, share your voice, and find opportunities within your community.