Oregon Magazine

The Furman's Letter to Samuel Adams

Yes, with those names, we could be talking about a complaint by Jeremiah Johnson to one of America's founding fathers.  But, what we are talking about here is a message from a m odern-day Oregon business leader to the current (May of 2010 A.D.) mayor of Portland Oregon.  The Furman is not happy with Mr.Adams(Subheads added to Furman's original text by Oregon Magazine.)

April 15, 2010Mayor Sam Adams
City of Portland1221 SW 4th Ave., Room 340
Portland, OR 97204

Dear Mayor Adams:

I am appalled you have decided to push through today the present ill-advised Portland River Plan.

In its present form it is not only inconsistent with Oregon Statute(s), but as you must know quite well, represents but another level of unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy on an already burdened waterfront business community. Moreover, it is little other than a thinly disguised tax on family wage jobs and industries at a time when the Portland Business Journal notes that Portland has has lost over 37,000 jobs in the last year.

Oregon already has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, at 10.6% according to the Oregon Unemployment Department,. Portland's downtown itself is undergoing economic dry rot with major amenity clusters surrounding the few remaining destination locations eroding and in weakened condition. The closing of major restaurants, and retailers like Saks are sure to be followed by increasing pressure on remaining destination clusters around the performing arts locations, and some of our major arts clusters are in difficult shape. Portland's homeless community has become more aggressively present downtown and the center of the city is becoming a magnet for social service locations.

Meanwhile, you cite the economic success of the Waterfront in the past decade, but use this opportunity to tax it and add more red tape to its functionality while it struggles with an apparently never-ending environmental issue, which has become so difficult that even our elected federal representatives are concerned with the threat this poses to a viable working waterfront.

"We'll pass the bill so you can read it." -- Nancy Pelosi

Central to my concerns is a decision by the Council to pass a resolution and work out important details later. While some positive compromises have been made, now is the time to finish the hard work and get the job done correctly. At stake are the 38,000 family wage jobs created by Waterfront businesses, each of which has a multiplier effect of four times that number in related clusters. As a Citizen and as CEO of a public headquarters company in the Portland area, I have been an active advocate for, and a contributor to many of Portland's social programs. My objection to your River Plan policy is that the Council seems to be deliberately becoming imbalanced in its commitment to social goals, moving away from the building blocks of any successful City, which must necessarily include important core economic clusters that create and attract family wage jobs.

You must know that much of the business community is becoming increasingly alienated from the Council's views on business. This has a serious downside for the City and for elected officials. Businesses create jobs; a sound economic policy requires strong commitment to sound infrastructure, which means resources spent on streets, sewers, the environment, and on basic
safety like sound policing and fire protection.

No taxpayers, no "community problems" money

The irony is that much of the problem of pollution in the Willamette has been due to City policies, and not just from the Port and from businesses along the river. Solutions therefore must be collaborative and reasonable to the times. You should think carefully about the message you are sending not only to your other constituents but to those of us you expect to protect and defend jobs in your City. It is an urban myth that this is a great place to start or maintain a business, and repeating that myth as a mantra does not make it so. Only sound, balanced economic policies will keep your central city from eroding, as it is doing in reality today. Investing $600 million in more bike paths and passing this Plan in its present form send a message that is imbalanced and inappropriate to the times. It is a disrespectful message to the families who are struggling to find jobs in the still difficult economic times, and to those of us who are attempting to protect jobs in a rapidly deteriorating public policy environment.

The consequences of such policies will be both real and imminent. If this Plan is passed today you can expect considerable negative reaction to it in terms people understand. This is not about business versus the environment. This is about jobs, and basic livability and indeed the future of our ability to preserve a viable tax base in Portland and in Multnomah County. I, for one, intend to actively resist implementation of this Plan and intend to challenge it if you implement it as proposed.


William A. Furman
President and Chief Executive Officer
The Greenbrier Companies

cc: Commissioner Nick Fish, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Commissioner Randy Leonard, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, John Carter, Schnitzer Steel, Inc., Sandra McDonough, Portland Business Alliance