Oregon’s governor says sustainability is key to state’s business

Oregon’s governor says sustainability is key to state’s business

Libby Tucker

Speaking to Oregon’s most influential business leaders, U.S. senators and state legislators Monday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski laid out a firm directive for developing Oregon’s economy: fund education.

This is not complicated. If we make the necessary investments in education, including work force training, we’ll end up with an economy capable of putting every Oregon citizen to work, every Oregon business in the black and every Oregon competitor finishing behind us, said Kulongoski in a speech to the fourth annual leadership summit, which was held Monday at the Oregon Convention Center. The more we put into education, the more we will get out of the economy.

The summit, which first convened in response to a statewide recession in 2002, presents a yearly business plan to promote economic development in the state. Oregon is the only state in the country to have developed such a plan as a result of collaboration between the public and private sectors.

This year, the governor proposed education reform as the most important short and long term strategy for growing Oregon’s economy. The strategy was embraced by business leaders across all industry sectors, including Oregon’s growing sustainable industry cluster, which emerged for the first time as a key sector in the new plan.

The old way of thinking about education is that each sector – pre- K, K through twelve, community colleges and universities – are separately budgeted, – managed and – lobbied for, and work force training has lost its footprint as part of our education system. That is going to change, said Kulongoski. My paradigm is that all of the sectors are viewed as part of one continuum that I call the education enterprise.

Included in the governor’s enterprise strategy are initiatives to increase funding at the state level, consolidate the budgets from all sectors of education, from kindergarten to college so that education is treated as one enterprise, add skill development and worker training, and change public perception of the opportunities available in the state.

The 2006 Oregon business plan objectives for education, set by a consortium of business leaders from across the state, go even farther, calling for higher achievement standards for K-12 students, more targeted state investment in postsecondary education and a doubling of engineering and computer science graduates by 2009.

Building on education

Also integral to the Oregon business plan is the continued development of industry clusters, which divide businesses into specialized sectors within a trade. The plan outlines strategies to boost Oregon’s competitiveness by focusing its limited resources on these designated industries, such as sports apparel, forestry and food and agriculture.

New to this year’s summit was an emerging cluster centered on environmental technologies and sustainable industries, which utilize renewable energy and materials as integral parts of business practices. Oregon is a recognized world leader in sustainable economic development, according to the plan, and the new state business plan includes an effort to bring this growing industry to the forefront of the state strategy.

Industry leaders across all clusters highlighted education as a crucial component to business development.

The sustainable building industry relies on new technologies to help make energy efficient buildings more affordable, said Mark Edlen, managing partner of Gerding Edlen Development Co., in a presentation Monday.

Without new research into and development of sustainable technologies, Edlen anticipates, the sustainable sector can’t grow.

We feel like we’re a lone ranger with no cavalry supporting these ideas, said Edlen, whose company specializes in green commercial buildings certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

We can’t afford to be patient waiting for technology to evolve, Edlen said. We’re in a position where we’re calling people at U of O labs before the technology is done.

As fuel prices increase along with dependence on foreign oil, Edlen said, he believes sustainable building practices will become much more important to the state economy in coming years.

Five years from now, I think we’re going to be looking at these (sustainable) buildings through a completely different lens, he said. If you build a building that doesn’t have energy efficiency and sustainable technology built in, that building is going to become obsolete fairly quick.

Oregon can be on the cutting edge of the sustainability market, industry leaders agree, if the state makes good on its commitment to fund education. Builders are already seeing a competitive advantage through their ability to construct LEED-certified buildings, said Dick O’Connor, executive director of the Oregon Building Congress.

If PSU, Oregon State, and the University of Oregon could get together and really work out how they can connect on sustainable building practices, it would not only help Oregon, it would help the universities, O’Connor said.

Sustainable building, he said, might be something the universities could specialize in, because Oregon is a leader on sustainability in the country. It’s an obvious asset we should try to take advantage of.

Copyright 2006 Dolan Media Newswires

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