Molly J. Smith/Statesman-Journal via AP
How is Oregon doing as a state?
Gov. Kate Brown answered that question only in the broadest sense during her State of the State speech this week: “Oregon’s rising economic tide should be lifting all boats. Yet many hardworking families are still under water.”
Her answer is a plan she dubbed “Future Ready Oregon,” including:
• Focus the state’s economic development efforts on people of color and rural Oregonians.
• Address Oregon’s housing shortage for working families.
• Make it easier for construction workers to start their own business, especially if they will build low-income housing in rural areas.
• Invest more in career-technical education and hands-on learning.
• Expand apprenticeships in good-paying jobs that need workers — information technology, health care, advanced wood manufacturing and high-tech manufacturing.
• Make it easier for individuals to enter the health care field, enabling them to train for various health-care sectors at once.
These goals are worthwhile, and align with Eastern Oregon’s interests and needs. Anyone making these statements at the opening of a legislative session should be applauded.
Rural Oregonians and people of color were left behind amid the economic boom experienced in Portland and other metro areas. Meanwhile, much of Oregon suffers from a shortage of housing for low- and middle-income residents. And certainly, Oregon’s education and training systems should better align with projected job opportunities. As Brown said, “The goal is to close the gap between the workforce that we have and the workforce that we need to fuel Oregon’s economy.”
She went on to say, “Over the course of the next year, through a series of executive actions, policy positions and legislation, Future Ready Oregon will build these pathways for adults to get the right skills for the right jobs of Oregon’s future.”
Brown spoke in broad terms that left many people in the Oregon Capitol, including some of her fellow Democrats, wondering what she had in mind. And despite Brown’s calling her plan “a new way of thinking about the economy,” previous governors, education officials and business leaders have said similar things.
That’s where Brown must distinguish herself, and show rather than tell. It’s an election year and she would like to keep her job come November. Serving the greater good of all Oregonians won’t be of much interest to her urban Democratic base, but will define her credibility with the rest of us.
In Umatilla and Morrow counties, we feel deeply the need for housing and workers in both the construction trades and health care. A defined and executed plan to improve both would be a welcome change.
This was not a bold speech. But it was a pragmatic speech. Oregon — both rural and urban — will benefit if Brown can make these ideas stick.