Since she was elected in 2015, Governor Kate Brown has spearheaded efforts to support small businesses and encourage economic diversity across the state. Her list of accomplishments include successfully raising the state’s minimum wage, improving education rates, and fostering a spirit of collaboration across the state’s departments and unique geographic regions. Brown was the first governor in the country to end the use of coal power, putting Oregon at the forefront of the clean energy movement.
Brown has served out the state’s eight-year term limits and will not be up for reelection in November.
We recently caught up with Gov. Brown to discuss her tenure in the state’s highest office and Oregon’s thriving economy.
What are some of the state’s biggest challenges and how are you working to overcome them?
Governor Kate Brown: Like in every state, economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is an urgent matter for Oregon. As we recover, we must support and lift up the communities that have been disproportionately impacted due to historic disparities — Oregon’s Black, Indigenous, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and people of color. By rooting our recovery efforts in racial equity, we can build an economy that works for all Oregonians.
We also are facing urgent needs related to housing and our workforce. I am pleased to be bringing a package of workforce investments to the 2022 legislative session, aimed at helping people get back to work, improving access to career-connected learning, and advancing opportunities for economic mobility and equitable prosperity. And because lack of stable housing is often the biggest barrier to getting or keeping a job, we must develop policy solutions to help people access and retain stable housing. Some important accomplishments in this area include our recent extension of emergency rental assistance, the creation of a statewide long-term rent assistance program — with an initial focus on youth exiting the foster system — and investments in affordable housing development (nearly 8,000 homes since 2015) and home loans ($130 million since 2017). But we need to go farther by coming together and envisioning how Oregon is going to make sure we have a state where all people can afford a safe, warm home.
Looking back, how has Oregon progressed under your leadership?
Gov. Brown: I am so proud that, through my administration, we created a Racial Justice Council (RJC) to center the voices and perspectives of Black, Indigenous, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Tribal community members with many different backgrounds and life experiences to focus on transformative change. The council was recently codified into law to ensure this critical work continues beyond any one governor’s term in office. One of the things the RJC has focused on is creating intergenerational wealth for our Black, Indigenous, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Tribal communities. I’m proud that, through the work of the council and its Economic Opportunity Committee, we were able to pass a bill that will support our diverse small businesses with access to capital. This is a critical step towards dismantling historic systemic barriers and investing in our economy and future generations as it relates to accessible capital for all communities of color and underserved businesses.
I would say that, generally, my approach as governor has really been one of collaboration.
I truly believe we are better when we work together. In this way, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot — we’ve significantly increased high school graduation rates, expanded access to early learning for low-income families, made historic investments in housing, passed a historic 10-year, $5.3 billion transportation package, significantly reduced the number of children in foster care, diversified Oregon’s judicial bench, passed public safety reform to reduce the number of people in our prisons, reached an agreement on a forest accord, passed comprehensive climate change legislation with the most aggressive timeline in the nation for achieving clean energy, and weathered the pandemic with some of the best public safety outcomes in the country. And through five special sessions during the pandemic, I’ve overseen collaboration with the Legislature to address critical issues like providing help for our small businesses, fixing the state budget, and getting emergency rent relief out the door.
How would you describe Oregon’s business climate to a company considering the state for their next relocation or expansion investment?
Gov. Brown: We take care of our Oregon companies. We look for corporate partners that want to be a real part of our communities and to grow their businesses in a way so that everyone prospers. Oregon has unique assets in our west coast location, and we’re the lower cost option compared to our neighbors to the north and south. But while our business costs are competitive, it’s our quality of business climate that really makes the difference — our ready and creative workforce, our Pacific Rim access, and our quality of life. Businesses like Intel and Nike can grow anywhere, but they continue to expand and invest billions in Oregon.
We also have a unique model with our Regional Solutions program — the only one of its kind in the nation — where the Governor’s office works with state agencies, local governments, public and private entities, philanthropic organizations, and academic institutions to identify regional priorities for community and economic development. This approach recognizes the unique needs of each Oregon region and allows the Governor’s office to lean in on economic development projects to solve problems and seize opportunities to get projects done. Our Regional Solutions teams work with businesses to ensure they are successful in navigating regulatory agencies throughout the state.
Workforce is always top of mind for site selectors. What would you most like them to understand about Oregon’s workforce?
Gov. Brown: Opportunities abound for employers in Oregon because we have focused on career-connected learning, including apprenticeships and education and training models that center employers’ needs, and on bringing underserved populations into our workforce development strategies. Because of that, I would say our workforce is very nimble — it’s collaborative, creative, and innovative.
Oregonians are also resilient. Disruptions created by the pandemic have highlighted significant disparities in how our workforce system serves Oregon’s communities of color.
Through the work of the Racial Justice Council, we have identified opportunities to facilitate change and advance equitable prosperity. I am pleased to be bringing a package of workforce investments to the 2022 legislative session that is focused on advancing opportunities for Oregonians, in particular historically underserved communities, including people of color, women, people with low incomes, rural communities, veterans, and Oregonians who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. These investments will improve access to career-connected learning, prepare adult workers for a future of increasingly complex work, and remove barriers to job readiness and career advancement.
What do you most want site selectors to understand about your state as a place to do business?
Gov. Brown: Oregon is a collaborator. We really work collaboratively at the state and local level to keep companies in Oregon and show the world the success these businesses have here, which helps to bring new firms into the state. Companies don’t move to places because a public official says they should — they go to places with competitive business costs and high quality business assets they need, such as access to markets, skilled workforce, quality of life, and consistent partnership from the public sector.
What are some of Oregon’s biggest recent economic development wins and why did those projects land in the state?
Gov. Brown: Oregon is fortunate to be poised for strong economic recovery coming out of the pandemic. We have a low unemployment rate, solid state revenues, and additional federal resources coming our way from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — setting us up for tremendous possibilities to help Oregon’s families and businesses.
From a high level, the growth we saw in our biggest competitive industries, like forestry, wood products, and semiconductor and electronics, was a big win, with uncertainty and stalled growth those same industries have seen in other states. We’ve also seen large investments from Amazon and Google. Facebook continued its investment in Central Oregon, growing its campus to 11 buildings. And one of our bioscience firms, Genentech, continued its growth at multiple sites in Oregon.
Intel continues to be a big win for our state, Oregon is home to its largest and most advanced facilities. I toured construction on the latest large expansion at the Intel campus with CEO Pat Gelsinger earlier this year. Both the manufacturing and the research and development Intel is doing in Oregon is incredible. Billions in investment is going into the Intel site and its workforce will continue to grow and drive the next generation of consumer electronics.
And I will also point out that the Port of Portland just received a Build Back Better grant from the EDA that’s going to help bolster the timber industry here while providing new housing options for Oregonians using cross-laminated timber. This is really exciting because it opens the door to being eligible for tens of millions of dollars to change how we look at housing construction from a more sustainable perspective.