Oregon Gains When Far East Meets Old West

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), November 11, 2011 | Go to article overview

Oregon Gains When Far East Meets Old West


Byline: Don Kahle For The Register-Guard

As the world turns, it also shifts. The spin is more of a wobble. Mark Twain explained it this way: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." The latest shift has placed the Pacific Northwest nearer the center of the world. After generations of obscurity here on the upper left edge of the planet, this is going to take a little getting used to.

Who could have anticipated that Oregon would fit the world's new definition of "centrally located?"

As the center of gravity of the world's consumer economy shifts to China and the rest of Asia, with 1 billion people reaching for their middle class dreams and 2 billion more waiting for their turn, what we used to call the Far East is linking up with what we used to call the Old West. Meanwhile, the North American Free Trade Agreement has tripled the north-south corridor of free trade along the Pacific Ocean.

Plot those shifts on a globe, and Oregon starts to look like the new center.

So it makes sense that each Oregon governor makes an annual foray to Asia to promote trade. Portland's mayor just returned from a 10-day diplomatic trip to Asia. Mayors typically haven't worried about global economic opportunities, but that was then. Now is just beginning.

The shift has happened slowly, but look back a quarter of a century and it's clear to see.

Oregon commissioned an economic development study. After the regional depression of the early 1980s, we did a lot of studying. Extraction and harvesting of natural resources was beginning to look "over." The study recommended that Oregon shift its economic incentives toward manufacturing, since that sort of industry offered good wages and relative stability. The report followed up with an intriguing question: What should we be manufacturing?

The report offered myriad answers, but among them was one little nugget that now borders on the profound: Oregon should set its sights on building stuff that doesn't weigh much. Oregon is tucked into the least populated corner of the nation. The largest California market is 850 miles away. Transportation costs increase with each ounce, and with it the temptation to relocate a successful manufacturing business so that it will be closer to its customers. …

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