Portland City Hall

Chamber testifies in support of Advance Portland

April 2023

Earlier this year, Prosper Portland and Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability released Advance Portland, a strategic framework and action plan for building a more inclusive, prosperous, and future-ready city.

The Portland Metro Chamber testified in support of this plan to Portland City Council, which subsequently approved the Advance Portland framework by a unanimous vote.

A copy of the Chamber’s testimony is included below.

April 26, 2023

Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Carmen Rubio

Re: Testimony: Support Advance Portland

Submitted by: Andrew Hoan, President & CEO of the Portland Business Alliance

Mayor and Commissioners,

The Portland Business Alliance (the Alliance) is Greater Portland’s Chamber of Commerce and represents the largest, most diverse network of businesses in the region. The Alliance advocates for business at all levels of government to support commerce, community health, and the region’s overall prosperity. We represent over 2,100 members, from 27 counties, 14 states, and virtually every industry sector. More than 80% of our members are small businesses.

I am testifying on behalf of our members in support of Prosper Portland and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s proposed ‘Advance Portland’ report, developed through the Inclusive Economic Development Strategy process that the Alliance and several of our members participated in. I serve on the steering committee.

Our board and membership have felt fully engaged throughout the process by the leadership and staff of Prosper Portland and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The Alliance commends the City for initiating this effort and for the thoughtful engagement of Directors Branam and Oliviera and their teams. Also, we want to acknowledge and support the perspective that economic development and racial equity are mutually dependent and linked with our ability to grow. The strategy within the report is correctly predicated on this perspective.

Advance Portland incorporates substantial feedback previously provided by the Alliance and has the support of our organization. I would like to offer highlights of our perspective along with recommendations for sequencing of investment and follow-up actions by this council.

First – this report adequately states and quantifies the problem; principally that the city is no longer growing, that for decades did little to foster the growth that did occur, but fundamentally took that growth for granted. Now we are faced with a new paradigm, that we are, in fact, different than other cities in our recovery. Growth can no longer be assumed. We have taxed ourselves into a competitive disadvantage relative to our peer regions. To restart the remarkable engine of the Portland economy will require substantive intervention by the public sector into the economy in support of the private sector or face long-term stagnation or even decline.

Second – that the road to our recovery through focused interventions should be predicated on our strengths in key clusters such as our Athletic, Outdoor, Team and Recreation economy, as well as our status as a true manufacturing hub, and the opportunity to be a leader in the transition to sustainable manufacturing and cleantechnology.

Third – that our Central City requires extraordinary attention due to the layered challenges and negative economic externalities it has faced throughout and caused by the pandemic. Our region was one of the first in and last out of Covid-19 restrictions. We have a higher-than-average dependence on transit use and professional services concentrations. We have experienced a marathon of crises from political violence, the unsheltered homelessness growth in the core, and the public safety collapse in the center city. All these things have marred the economic heart of the state.

Please consider the following as a plea for actions that can be implemented immediately along with the other outlined strategies in the plan to avoid inertia and decline:

  • Central City commercial leasing – we urge this council to enact immediate multi-year Business License Tax holidays for commercial businesses that re-sign, extend, or expand to our Central City. This is revenue that would not exist, should these companies depart as many have chosen to. We must arm your commercial center with the tools to out-compete our peers.
  • Deploy the recently announced $100 million in private-sector dedicated investment through the amendments to the Portland Clean Energy Fund to investment tenant improvements to physical space for businesses in the central city to offset both landlord and tenant costs for renovation, as well as further our building decarbonization goals.

The combination of these two central city lease incentives and tenant improvement funds to defray costs will be a game changer in our recovery.

  • The Alliance helped found the City’s current clean industry hub working group, which is highlighted as one of the key strategies in this report. This would be an early action that demonstrates the city’s commitment to clean industry that would also greatly benefit our central city.
  • Immediately enact city-proposed taxes and fees impact analysis requirements, coupled with a requisite cost – benefit analysis that also pegs any proposed increases to how these compare to our peer regions. As the highest taxed location in the nation and the highest taxed business location intra-regionally, we need full transparency about how proposed revenue would impact our competitiveness when bringing proposed increases to council.

Lastly – it is time to ‘go-big’ on economic development and small business support in the long-term. This report calls for a city-wide analysis of bureaus’ small business services and then proposes a recommended alignment in the future of those offerings.

No major American city worth its economic salt lacks a bureau-level Small Business Services office. Presently, Prosper Portland staff and various other bureaus serve in some form to support small businesses that seek to own, operate, invest, and grow in our city. All these hard-working individuals and bureaus are overwhelmed, understaffed and under-resourced. We are calling for the pairing of this economic strategy with our present city charter reform mandated by voters to establish a bureau and / or Office of Small Business Services. This will allow for those services to be concentrated, improved, and clearly marketed to our small business community. Simultaneously, this will allow Prosper to focus on what a traditional economic development entity should, the strategy and game-changing economic development projects that require extraordinary expertise in development and land use.

Thank you for your consideration and once again, for the development of this comprehensive strategy to guide our city’s economic future.