Unleashing the region’s potential, together

Three new realities we must understand in order to live up to our region’s potential

Sean Robbins

Our region is at an inflection point. Once associated mostly with coffee shops, the foodie scene and quality of life, the Portland-Vancouver metro area is emerging on the national and international scene as an economic powerhouse. The region is as increasingly recognized for innovation, entrepreneurship, and a talented and effective workforce.

As we look ahead to 2014, the extent to which we are able to build on and live up to our region’s potential to compete in the 21st century relies on understanding three new realities.

First, the power and responsibility for shaping our economic future rests with us. With Washington DC stymied and state capitols handcuffed, metropolitan regions have emerged all around the nation as the organizational unit addressing society’s most pressing and visible challenges. From New York City’s creation of applied science campuses to spur innovation, to voter approval of local funding for major transit projects in Denver and Los Angeles, metros are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. This is as true for Greater Portland as anywhere – and we are only just beginning.

Second, partnerships between employers and government are the key to doing more with less. We live in an era of scarce resources: time, energy and money. The days of trying to go it alone are over; we have to make these resources count. Our ability to create a thriving economy relies on working together – across boundaries, sectors and points of view. Greater Portland Inc. was founded in 2011 to align this ecosystem to help focus our attention and resources to create economic impact. And with 24 cities, 6 counties, 2 ports, 4 universities, 2 states and 25 of our community’s largest employers all under the same tent, we are well on our way.

Finally, the globalized economy has significant implications for how we think and act in our own community. We face competition in a global marketplace. Businesses look for future location and expansion opportunities from metros around the world – from Sao Paulo to Shanghai or Chicago. When it comes to strategies to grow family-wage jobs, focusing on intra-regional differences between Portland, Vancouver, Wilsonville and Hillsboro is wasteful, if not absurd. The outside world looks at us a region, and we must do the same. Thankfully our local elected officials, chief executives and university partners know this, are looking outward, and understanding the region’s role in uniting to compete in the global economy.

In just two and a half years, Greater Portland Inc. has brought leaders together from across the region to deliver six wins that have resulted in more than a thousand new jobs – and we are just getting started. Building on this momentum, we will undertake an ambitious initiative in 2014 to weave together the dozens of organizations and agencies involved in economic development in our region. Together, we’ll forge a holistic vision for our region’s economy coupled with a tactical action agenda that integrates marketing and business recruitment with entrepreneurship, workforce development, global trade, infrastructure and education.

Our region has untapped economic potential, and with collaboration, smart actions, focused attention and a healthy sense of urgency, we are poised to unleash it together.

Sean Robbins is the CEO of Greater Portland Inc., a regional economic development organization. He can be reached at sean.robbins@greaterportlandinc.com.