Friday, March 26, 2010

Oregon Business, Taxes and The Oregonian

Earlier this week I was disturbed by the front page article in The Oregonian which insinuated that many Oregon businesses were soon to leave for he greener pastures of other states.  In fact, if you read the article, there was no story at all, some 'unnamed' business owner claiming to be on the verge of leaving but otherwise it was simply an article about businesses complaining about new taxes.  In fact, there was really no story at all, not one single company that is actually leaving.  And yet The Oregonian, perhaps to defend its own editorial position, deemed it worth of not only publication, but front page status.

Let's be clear, this was not a news story: this was an op-ed dressed up as a news story and The Oregonian need to keep its editorializing on the opinion page.

Still, I am on Spring Break and decided not to bother commenting.  Thankfully, Ben Jacklet, Managing Editor of Oregon Business magazine has done the work for me:

The Oregonian took the unusual step this morning of running a front-page business story about an unnamed executive, CEO of “a successful technology company southwest of Portland employing hundreds and boasting a bright future.”

Was he unnamed because he is participating in the witness protection program?

Hardly. He’s thinking of skipping town.

The gist of the story is that this phantom executive is considering gathering up his highly successful company and leaving Oregon, leading a devastating mass exodus of talent and capital, all because of the tax increases passed by the voters with Measures 66 and 67.

Well, here’s my own personal message to Mr. Phantom CEO: Don’t let the door hit you on the butt on the way out.

It’s not that I don’t care. I care deeply about the state of Oregon’s economy and would hate to see our job market deteriorate further. But the votes are in and the law is the law. And guess what? Oregon’s tax burden on businesses is far from the worst. It’s right there in the middle of the pack. Personal income tax is high, but that’s because Oregon has no sales tax. The end result is an imperfect but admirably progressive tax structure.

But it’s not the objective numbers that matter, apparently. “The far greater damage,” investor David Chen told the Oregonian, “is in how it disenfranchised business.”

Disenfranchised? Really? Did someone lose the right to vote?

Hardly. They just lost the vote. That doesn’t make you disenfranchised.

Now the states of Idaho, Utah, Montana and Ohio are joining our scavenger-like neighbors in Clark County and the grandstanding mayor of Chicago in welcoming Oregon businesses to move to greener pastures. The only problem is, their pastures aren’t greener, and their cities aren’t better for business. Anyone considering a move to any of those locations should consider the old adage that you get what you pay for. The winery tours aren't quite the same in Utah, and the Ohio Coast doesn't really compete with Oregon's.

My qualm with all of this after-the-vote crying of wolf is this: It does not help. As anyone who tracks real estate or the stock market understands, perception matters. Sending out apocalyptic messages that Oregon businesses are so fed up that they might even move to Idaho is not helpful. Vowing to take your hundreds of jobs and abandon the community that helped you build your company is not helpful either.

Especially if you don’t have the guts to sign your name to it.

My thoughts exactly.


Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this. He sums it up very deftly.

During the 66/67 election, I had the distinct privilege of working with the business owners of the Oregon Small Business Council, or the "progressive" business group.

These are folks who feel left behind by NFIB, the Chamber, AOI, etc., as they have kids in public schools, parents on public assistance and see value in well-funded public safety. They also understand that strong public infrastructure and a better overall state are good for business, as well as life in general.

Let's be clear: businesses don't move to Oregon because of costs. They move here because this state is fantastic for its scenic beauty, natural resources, diverse culture, skilled workforce and trendy perception worldwide.

In the final days of the election, there started to be a meme on a couple blogs about how OSBC was "not a real business group" or was "just some public employee union sham," when in fact, there are more than 400 active business owners involved. While I'm no longer on staff, the business owners are forging ahead to build a better future for our state and nation.

What's worse was that this meme was picked up by the Bend Bulletin, which had been writing hatchet jobs about the measures from the beginning. I actually received a phone call from Erik Lukens, the slimiest person I may have ever spoken with over the phone, who simply wanted to poke and prod to try and discredit the business owners I was working with by defaming me.

Through the conversation, he simply wanted to drill me about who I am, what my experience was, etc., and showed no interest in talking with any involved business owners, whether in Bend or Portland or Medford or wherever. He was just out for blood.

Well, I had our board members in Bend and the chair call him and leave voicemail messages, but he didn't so much as call back. Turns out he wasn't there to report facts or shine a light, he was there for a yellow, yellow hatchet job.

It's sad that the Oregonian continues this sleazy excuse for journalism while we should all be working together to rebuild Oregon's economy. Trash-talking my home does no good for anyone.

Once, Tom McCall said, "Come visit again and again...but don't move here to live." The response was an influx of new businesses and residents who were enticed by this stark protection of what Oregonians love about Oregon.

If the Oregonian wants to attract businesses, maybe it should start reporting news or covering the positive aspects of Oregon's economy, like the thousands of businesses NOT LEAVING THE STATE.

Jeff Alworth said...

Jacklet is one of the best reporters in Portland--and our best business reporter. Nice to see him call BS. And so artfully!

When I read that article, I wondered--would it even be possible to track the consequences of M66/67? Aside from asking every business that left in, say, the next five years? This may be another reason the O is blase about running a piece like this--it's hard to call them on it.

PortlandMaven said...

As an erstwhile journalist who has been compelled to write a non-story or two in my time, I recognize the genre. Manning's piece was disgraceful and all the more so because he is usually a good reporter.