Think tank lends hand with regional export plan

Key parts of effort to create jobs by boosting exports will be unveiled Oct. 17 in Portland

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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With help from a Washington, D.C., think tank, regional economic development leaders are laying the groundwork for an ambitious project: to create jobs and boost employment by increasing the region’s exports.

Two key pieces of the effort — a market assessment and a strategic plan, both written with help from the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy group — will be rolled out Oct. 17 in Portland. The event is expected to be attended by the mayors of Portland and Vancouver, port representatives, and economic development officials. .

Information

For more information about export assistance for Clark County businesses, contact Bonnie Moore, director of business services for the Columbia River Economic Development Council, at 360-567-1055 or bmoore@credc.org.

The idea is to help empower businesses to increase their exports and to persuade companies that don’t export to do so, said Bonnie Moore, director of business services for the Columbia River Economic Development Council, the Vancouver-based business recruiter.

The strategic plan’s goals are centered around expanding the supply chain of Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip-maker Intel — Oregon’s largest employer — “and rebranding the Portland-Vancouver area so that it’s more of a global brand,” Moore said.

The move is part of the Obama administration’s National Export Initiative, which calls for doubling exports of the country’s goods and services by 2015. Earlier this year, the Brookings Institution chose the Portland metro area, along with Los Angeles; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Minneapolis-St. Paul, to participate in a pilot program aimed at developing a comprehensive export strategy for each region.

The Portland metro area, as defined by the federal Office of Management and Budget, encompasses Clark and Skamania counties in Washington, and Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Columbia and Yamhill counties in Oregon.

Moore said Brookings Institution staff have helped area leaders conduct market research, which formed the foundation of the export plan that will be unveiled Oct. 17. “It’s like having a think tank work for your metro’s specific needs,” she said.

Now it’s up to the region’s economic development leaders to put the plan into effect, an effort that’s expected to launch this fall and wrap up by October 2013.

There will be a system set up to measure the results of the plan, Moore said.

“We are working on the performance metrics,” she said.

The Brookings Institution expects to see rising company revenues; an increasing share of companies that are exporting; expansion of small, mid-sized and minority firms; and improved opportunities for growth within the exporter supply chain.

“This will lead to improvement in broad economic measures, such as job growth, employment rate, wages and productivity,” according to the Brookings Institution.

It won’t be easy.

The global economy is showing major weak spots. America’s trade deficit with China is massive, with the U.S. importing far more goods and services from China than it exports to that country. And China’s manipulation of its currency to keep the value of its yuan lower than the dollar — which keeps China’s goods cheaper than those made in the U.S. — remains a thorny issue.

Nevertheless, Oregon and Washington both have strong ties to international trade. A July 2010 study conducted by the Brookings Institution found that the Portland region, along with three metro areas in other parts of the U.S., doubled their exports between 2003 and 2008.

They did so partly because of their clustering of individual industries. About two-thirds of Portland’s growth in exports came from its computer and electronics manufacturers, with Intel as a major player, according to the study.

Meanwhile, Washington is the fourth-largest exporting state in the U.S. One in four jobs in the state is tied to exports.

And China isn’t the only available trading partner. The Port of Vancouver, for example, ships wheat to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Indeed, more than 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power is located outside the U.S., according to the U.S. Commercial Service, the trade-promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for Southwest Washington, said there’s no guarantee a regional export strategy “will pan out, that it will be a sustainable market. Every country has its ups and downs.”

Nevertheless, he said, “every economy needs to look at exporting, whether it’s foreign exports or exports just outside the area. That’s the lifeblood of a regional economy.”