Oregon's economy: Slackers need not apply

Portland, Oregon
Levy Moroshan | Flickr | Getty Images
Portland, Oregon

Portland, the largest city in Oregon, was recently ranked fifth on Bloomberg BusinessWeek's best cities in America list. Why? The city—and its state—is known for its laid-back living with a great deal of support for creation and innovation. And businesses have taken note with lofty aspirations for continuous gains in education, health care and sustainability.

Our economy was originally built by Oregonians who relied on the land for their livelihood, and much of the community continues to depend heavily on natural resource economies like farming, forestry and fishing. After high-tech manufacturing, natural resources remain among Oregon's leading industries.

Oregon has also developed a reputation for being innovative in important areas. For instance, the state's workers' compensation reforms made years ago are appearing around the country, and the state remains a leader in this area. According to the state's Department of Consumer and Business Services, Oregon has the 13th-lowest premium rate and is 16 percent below the median for all states and Washington, D.C., based on premium rates effective Jan. 1, 2012.

Oregon rates are highly competitive, especially compared with our neighbors: California's rates are the third-highest in the nation, while Washington ranks 13th and Idaho comes in at 19th.

Oregon's economic innovation is also apparent in the area of affordable and clean energy. In 2012, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked the state fourth on its energy-efficient scorecard, citing strong policies and results.

In addition to a strict building energy code, the state participates in broad initiatives to boost energy efficiency for consumers and industries. Plus, there's a sincere interest in exploring alternative energy options, as evidenced by 21 hydroelectric power plants within the state and our record-breaking use of wind farms.

Efforts to date have resulted in a relatively low carbon footprint for the state, and reliable and competitively priced energy for its industries.

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Our business climate also boasts a highly educated workforce. In the 2006-2010 American Community Survey, Oregon slightly surpassed the national average in bachelor's and advanced degrees: 28.8 percent of the 25 and older Oregon population held such degrees, as compared with 28.2 percent for the nation.

The Oregon legislature has prioritized the coordination of all levels of education so more Oregonians graduate from high school and earn career certification or college degrees. The vision is to achieve a 40-40-20 mix, with 40 percent of the population earning a four-year degree or better, 40 percent earning an associate's degree or technical credential, and 20 percent a high school diploma or the equivalent.

All this being said, a number of hurdles within the Oregon business environment work to our disadvantage. Among them, Oregon's tax structure has gained a reputation for being unfriendly to business, and our property taxes are also among the highest in the country. The state frequently ranks as one of the worst income tax states for top earners (>$250,000/year), and our capital gains are famously unfriendly to investors and small businesses alike.

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In its 2013 State Business Tax Climate Index, the Tax Foundation ranked Oregon as 13th in the nation for best tax climate, but this ranking is deceptive. While buoyed by our lack of a sales tax, the state falls among the bottom 20 for corporate taxes, individual income taxes and unemployment insurance taxes.

These hurdles seriously hurt our economy and are a key reason why Oregon perpetually suffers from higher unemployment than many other states.

In the end, after looking at our various opportunities and challenges, I believe in Oregon now more than ever. If our political leaders of all affiliations can work together to guard what we cherish, but also address the structural issues that hinder investment, we can unlock Oregon's potential.

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I know it's possible because my company has participated in just this type of collaboration. We recently had the opportunity to work with the city of Gresham, where our main processing facility is located, to make improvements to our wastewater process.

While both entities were eager to make these upgrades, the regulations were written in a way that made achieving the proper solution both difficult and costly. Being a champion, however, Gresham worked with us to modify the regulations so we could achieve the right solution in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Oregon is a great place to live and work, and if we come together to address our challenges, it can be even greater—a true testament to our viability. After all, where else can you ski the glacier on Mount Hood in the morning, enjoy a late lunch in Portland in the afternoon, surf the break in Cannon Beach in the evening and still have time to enjoy a Pacific Ocean sunset with fine glass of Oregon Pinot Noir?

—By Rob Miller.

Rob Miller became president of Trailblazer Foods in April 2000, bringing more than 10 years of product development, sales, marketing and leadership experience to the company. He oversees a workforce of approximately 80 employees. Previously, Miller spent a decade at Johnson & Johnson, where he held a variety of management positions in five consumer products divisions. He serves on the boards of Miller Family Holdings and Trailblazer Fruit Products and is a member of the Portland State University Business Advisory Committee and co-chair of the capital campaign to build a new business school at the university. He is also a member and former chapter chair of the Young Presidents' Organization.

CNBC and YPO (Young Presidents' Organization) have an exclusive editorial partnership. A key component of this partnership is regional Chief Executive Network in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These networks are made up of cross-sections of YPO's unrivaled global membership of 20,000 top executives on the front lines of the economy, running companies that collectively generate $6 trillion in annual revenues and employ 15 million people in more than 120 countries.