In August, an Oregon-made motorcoach took us 2,000 miles across Oregon, visiting communities in all four corners of the state to meet with more than 600 business and community leaders. Part of our purpose was to update communities on the Oregon Business Plan. But more importantly, we wanted to listen firsthand to folks on the Main Streets of our state, to learn what they're doing - and what they need - to be competitive in a changing economy and in the global marketplace.

Bringing all of Oregon together for economic recovery is the aim of the Oregon Business Plan, a detailed blueprint for improving the state's economic outlook. This blueprint is the product of an unprecedented collaboration among our state's business and political leaders, inaugurated in December 2002 at the first-ever Oregon Leadership Summit. At that event we brought together more than 1,300 Oregonians from all 36 counties to create, for the first time, a shared vision for Oregon's economic future.

The resulting Plan provided a comprehensive framework for creating jobs and growing the economy - from improving education and enhancing Oregon's forest resource benefits to the economy and the environment, to increasing our capacity to commercialize technology research and enhancing the transportation infrastructure that attracts jobs to our state and sends Oregon products back out. You can review the full Plan at http://www.oregonbusinessplan.org/.

At the 2002 summit, we promised to hold ourselves accountable for the success of the Plan and to spread its momentum throughout the state.

Our recent cross-state adventure was just one of many efforts to continue the unique dialogue begun more than two years ago. And we can report encouraging news.

In every corner of the state, confident Oregon business leaders told us they're succeeding in a tough, competitive environment by producing world-class products.

We learned that Oregon agriculture is prospering by serving more specialized markets, targeting our superior products to consumers who want the higher quality our ranches and farms can provide.

We learned that Oregon manufacturing companies are staying abreast of the competition by investing in new technologies and in their workforce.

We learned that Oregon tourism is booming with new opportunities for folks near and far to experience all this special place has to offer.

And we also heard Oregon leaders' opinions on the challenges that face their businesses and communities on the pathway to economic progress.

Local leaders know that workforce quality is critical. They know businesses must have well-educated, healthy employees trained and ready to work hard. To help meet their needs, Oregon must keep education and workforce quality at the top of its agenda.

Local leaders are trying to make the best of a tight market for venture capital and other sources of funding. To help meet their needs, Oregon needs to connect people with great ideas to people with the capital to fund them.

Local leaders are stressing the importance of technology, transportation and telecommunications. They're calling for help with the costs of health care. And they're looking for answers on local priorities - water policy in Pendleton and Klamath Falls, telecommunications in La Grande, fisheries in Newport, and forest policy in Eugene and John Day.

All the folks who talked to us shared their passion for Oregon and their desire to see it grow. And what we learned from them will light a clearer pathway to even more progress when we convene the Third Annual Leadership Summit on Dec. 6, 2004 to update the Oregon Business Plan.

On this trip we heard tremendous support for continuing the partnership we created back in December 2002. Folks are excited to see a number of the Plan's goals being met already: Transportation infrastructure is improving with new infusions of federal funds and state bonding authority. Oregon's ability to benefit economically from scientific research is growing by leaps and bounds, with the creation of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnology Institute (ONAMI) and appropriations from Congress to support research here. And a new forest health law is protecting our communities from catastrophic fires, improving the health of our forests, protecting old growth, and putting people back to work in rural communities across our state.

But the journey to a full economic recovery is just beginning.

With the input of all our community and business leaders, and new accountability from those of us in elected office, Oregonians are choosing to build a better economic future - together. What we heard in our travels across the state only increased our optimism, and our commitment, for Oregon's economic future.

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Ron Wyden is the Oregon's senior U.S. senator. Bill Thorndike is the chairman of the Oregon Business Plan Steering Committee.

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