Training for Change

An Interview with Dr. Jeremy Brown, President, PCC

When Portland Community College’s board of directors announced its choice for its next leader one year ago, it described Dr. Jeremy Brown (who has a doctorate in physics) as “a collaborative leader skilled at creating strong internal and external relationships” and a “polished communicator who is insightful and inclusive; a quick learner talented at navigating new environments with new players…” IMS director, Sheila Martin explores with Dr. Brown his vision for PCC’s future.

Dr. Jeremy Brown,
 President, PCC

Sheila Martin: You started at PCC about a year ago. What attracted you to the job?

Dr. Jeremy Brown: It’s exciting to think about PCC on many different levels. On the national level, forty-five percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. go to community colleges. So community colleges have a huge impact on the lives of many of our students. PCC is the 19th largest community college in the nation, in terms of head count of numbers of students. On the state level, PCC is dealing with issues that the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) has brought to the attention of policymakers. And, of course, funding for higher education is first and foremost in our minds on most days.

As the largest institution of higher education in the state, we believe that we have a significant responsibility to play a leading role in providing information and feedback on directions that we might wish to take. And some really exciting and creative ideas are coming up. Obviously on the local scale, PCC has a tremendous impact in our community. It’s been amazing to go out into the community and talk with people and hear so many positive stories and to realize how much we’re held in high esteem by people in the community.

Before I arrived we ran a survey. Two-thirds of the households said that one or more family members had taken a class at PCC, which is just enormous. Eighty-five percent of folks said that they would recommend PCC to somebody else. So we’re starting from a great position. My predecessor really did a terrific job. It’s a very fundamentally sound institution. But it also has great aspirations. So all those things put together make for a really great institution at a fascinating time, locally, regionally, and nationally. And of course, Portland’s just a fantastic place to live, and having a five-year old son who really enjoys the outdoors, we’re having a great time.

SM: How does PCC meet the challenge of developing programs that prepare students for the jobs that are going to be created in the future?

JB: That’s an easy question, or a difficult question, whichever way you want to think about it. We have to prepare students to get a job immediately after they graduate. But sometimes they leave us early because they get a job offer, and we’ve in essence met their needs, but they’ll still hopefully come back and finish that degree. We also want them to think of education as a lifetime pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement.

We also have to recognize that we’re training students not just for today’s jobs but for tomorrow’s jobs, and even jobs five years from now–jobs that don’t yet exist. We have to rely on many sources of information and guidance.

Sometimes it’s not just the “book skills” that we have to work on, it’s also those soft skills.

Sometimes it’s not just the “book skills” that we have to work on, it’s also those soft skills. So as graduates change jobs, or change careers, then they rely less and less on what they learned in the classroom or in the lab, or the shop so to speak, and more and more on those soft skills that they may learn outside of the classroom. The important question is, how do we then bring that into the classroom?

We’re seeing more and more employers who think carefully about the people that they hire. They may have the requisite skills, but do they have the right approach and understanding of what it takes to be employed in the workforce? That’s something that we think about on a regular basis.

The other thing that really helps us a lot is having advisory boards for our academic programs. These boards represent those folks who are out there in the business sector, and who come back to us on a regular basis and talk about our recent graduates. The let us know what skills they see in our graduates that they really like, and what skills perhaps we need to emphasize more within our curriculum. So we can be quite dynamic in changing our curriculum to meet those needs. Then, of course, we ask them the familiar questions. What skills will students need two years from now? For example, we’re seeing right now, and I’m hearing from several quarters, that there’s a tremendous need for millwrights. Currently we don’t have a program in millwrights, so we’re looking at that carefully.

PCC Cascade

SM: That’s a specific technical skill that people are looking for. Is there a predominant type of soft skill that the employers are looking for in graduates?

JB: I think a lot of the time it’s the problem solving side of things. What happens in the workforce when you encounter a problem that wasn’t in the textbook, or that the instructor didn’t cover in the welding labs? Can the student or graduate think critically in order to discover creative ways of solving it?

We want our graduates to have the confidence to overcome whatever challenges are put in their way, both in their professional as well as personal lives. So, I think problem solving is an important soft skill. And, of course, we also emphasize leadership, teamwork, time management, and others.

SM: PCC traditionally has been an important path to high school graduation for students who haven’t been successful in the traditional path. What is your view about the future of that role for PCC?

JB: There are several angles to answering that. For those students who are currently in high school, what can we do to assist the high schools in helping them finish? Additionally, what can we do to help those students who dropped out of high school, and who, after years have gone by, realize that they need to get some adult basic education, or a GED?

Focusing on the latter, we do provide adult basic education to about 4,300 people each year. We provide a doorway for those students to get that skill, and to get that diploma that will lead them to other accomplishments. We also recognize that for some of those students, the amount that we charge for the program is expensive. So we provide some scholarships, and we also provide students with some money towards PCC tuition once they’ve completed a certain number of hours in the adult basic education program.

For students who are currently attending high school, we offer many different options. Obviously, we have a lot of dual credit programs with a large number of schools within our district. We have more than 5,300 high school students taking dual credit classes with us on an annual basis.

We have more than 5,300 high school students taking dual credit classes with us on an annual basis.

That’s a huge number. We’re also providing students with the opportunity to see what college would be like. They start thinking, “I’m taking a college level class. I’m going to get college credit for this, and I’m still in high school, so maybe college is for me after all.” In cases such as the Jefferson Middle College Program, students attend classes on a college campus and begin feeling comfortable in the higher ed environment, so that when they’re about to graduate from high school, the thought of “going to college” isn’t as intimidating as it might otherwise be.

The Future Connect Program is another option that really is changing people’s lives in myriad ways. It’s designed to help low-income and first-generation high school students get on the path toward college by offering career counseling, academic and personal advising, and some scholarship money.

The students themselves have some spectacular stories of opportunity taken and success accomplished. Perhaps their parents didn’t speak English. Perhaps their parents thought that the student’s chance of going to college was limited by the expense. So if the student gets to go to college for free, and is still living at home, and able to get some work that contributes to the family economy, then we’re building bridges to folks who never thought college was an option. And at the end of the day, people run out of reasons not to go to college.

SM: More generally, what role do you see for PCC in meeting the state’s 40-40-20 goals—the idea that all Oregon adults will hold a high school diploma or a GED, that 40% will hold an associate’s degree or higher ed certificate, and that another 40% will hold a baccalaureate or higher degree, all by the year 2025? Some observers consider this an audacious vision.

JB: I’m a big fan of audacious goals. When we think about 40-40-20, clearly we have a role to play in the first 20 percent, as we’ve just discussed, on the high school graduation and the GED side of things. And we obviously play a significant role in the middle 40, by offering two-year certificate programs, two-year associate degrees, and workforce training. On the other 40, the four-year degree side of things, we have an ever-increasing number of students who see the value of starting at community college and then transferring to a four-year institution. They realize that two years at a community college is a whole lot less expensive than two years at a four-year institution. And they are close to home—perhaps living at home. And also they are making a transition from being in high school to being in an institute of post-secondary, higher education. Sometimes that transition is too much too soon and some people struggle in their first term as an undergraduate. Getting used to living in a dorm, making a whole new set of friends, and facing a different set of classroom expectations can be daunting all at once. We’re taking away at least half of that, if not more, if they’ve also spent time with us taking dual credit classes in high school. At last count, we had more than 4,200 students who went from PCC to Portland State, for example, in one year. We had nearly 800 who went to Oregon State and more than 400 who went to University of Oregon. So, we are providing that pathway to students. I think that community colleges play a really crucial role in this 40-40-20 goal, and we’re committed to ensuring that we do our part in that.

SM: PCC’s partnership with PSU is critically important because so many of the students that we serve wouldn’t be able to attend PSU if they didn’t take advantage of the financial benefit of attending community college for their first two years.

JB: If I remember correctly, forty percent of PSU’s recent graduating class had taken classes at PCC. So it is a great partnership, and we really value that. And of course, a lot of the times students who transfer have already taken college classes, so they’re used to college credit. They recognize that the courses that they take transfer in, so the rigor is comparable. So when they do transfer, then they’re very well prepared to be successful.

SM: I want to talk a little bit now about your relationship with the neighborhoods in which your campuses are located. How do you think PCC’s presence affects those neighborhoods?

JB: You know, one of the things that I’m really struck by when I visit the various campuses, the three campuses—Cascade in Portland, Sylvania near Tigard and Lake Oswego, Rock Creek in Hillsboro—and the new Southeast Center in Portland, is the amount of construction that’s going on. In 2008 we passed a bond for 374 million dollars, which at the time was the largest bond in the state of Oregon. It was the height of the recession, and yet we passed that. It’s been interesting, because other community colleges have struggled, from what I understand, to have bonds passed within their districts. I attribute our success to reaching out to our communities from the beginning and getting them involved in the process.

I was out at the Cascade campus this morning on Killingsworth, talking to those folks about what we need to do, and what we’d like to do, and asking them, how does this work for you as a member of our community?Parking is a huge issue, obviously. And so we built underground parking.

Parking is a huge issue [at the Cascade campus], obviously. And so we built underground parking.

We assuaged the fears that local folks may have that we’d be parking on the streets. And we actually do a pretty good job of discouraging our students from parking in the neighborhoods immediately around our campus. So that has gone remarkably well for us.

The Southeast Center on 82nd and Division officially opened two new buildings, which essentially doubled the size of instructional space in that area. I think that’s going to have a huge impact for that community. Not only do we have a first-class dedicated library for that campus but we also we have a coffee shop, and retail spaces on the front side of some of our buildings. We are starting to integrate and
be part of the community, while remaining an institution of higher education.

We really want PCC to be a part of the larger community. I always say that we are a community college, which means we are a college full of community. So we want our neighbors in the larger community to be a part of the things that we do, and to realize that the events that we hold on campus are for them too, that we reach out and invite them to be part of campus life. We don’t think of ourselves as an ivory tower. We think of ourselves as a commons where people come for intellectual dialogue, to enrich their culture, as well as also being an inviting, open space for people to be.

We’ve also done some remarkable things in terms of working with the community and local law enforcement to make our communities much safer. We’ve received many kudos for doing things like that. All of these efforts are important. But the key elements are to engage the community early in the planning process, and to have them become champions of what we’re trying to accomplish.

PCC Slyvania

SM: What has surprised you the most about this community?

JB: Well, my wife and five-year-old have been impressed by the warmth of the welcome we’ve received in this community. And you know, we talk about Oregon being nice, but this is way over being nice and so it’s been great. And, again, it goes back to how people perceive PCC. They understand that having an institution like PCC in their backyard, so to speak, is a tremendous benefit. People here in the district are just amazing in terms of the support they give to the arts, to culture, to a whole variety of different things, and to education. Not that I’ve been surprised by that, but I applaud it. It makes it a great place to live.

I’ve worked at some places before where emails from students have typically talked about the faculty in not so glowing terms. And here, I would say that probably if you were to take ten emails that I get from students, nine of then will be saying how great our faculty are. And you think for every nine people who take the time to write something positive about a faculty member, there’s probably another ten people who felt that way but just didn’t write.

Students and people who go to PCC say, “I feel like I get this individual attention, that they know who I am, they understand my issues and they help me solve them,” rather than saying, “Oh, I’m just one of 90,000 people who stands in a long line and gets to the front of the line and then has to go back to the line because I forgot a piece of paper.” We don’t have lines, which I’m just totally amazed by. Students seem to be very satisfied with the service we provide.

SM: It sounds like you’ve taken a page from the business community in terms of having a customer-focused model for how you’re running your organization.

JB: I think of the relationship between customer service and customer loyalty. And I like to think about customer loyalty. So if somebody had a choice, would they stay with us out of loyalty rather than just because we’re here and it’s convenient. That’s where customer service comes in—it promotes loyalty. I really think we’re developing an environment where our customers are loyal to us.

Metroscape, Summer 2014

From the Front Lines of the Housing Crisis: Two vulnerable tenants discuss their experiences in Portland’s increasingly brutal rental market and how they’re working to make things better


Homelessness is the most visible face of Portland’s affordable housing crisis, but the numbers of street sleepers and tent campers are nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of beleaguered tenants.  They may be hidden away in their separate apartments, but they are suffering the effects of crisis all the same.  40% of the 900,000 households in the Portland Metro area are tenants, and half are paying more than 30% of their income on rent.  A quarter pay more than 50%, and the percentages go higher as the households get poorer.  Besides forcing them to impoverish themselves to pay for housing, the crisis is narrowing their choices, blighting their lives with frequent moves and compromising their ability to survive. 

 In this portion of the Metroscape, we usually interview prominent officials, professors, civil society leaders or experts.  But the truest “experts” in the housing crisis are those experiencing housing insecurity first hand, every day of their lives.  So we decided to talk with two of Portland’s low-income tenants, both active in the tenant movement, and get their take on the crisis and how these problems might be solved.  Lynn Hager, 34, is finishing up her degree in community development at PSU after working for many years and having a child.  Melissa Pyle, 26, works at PSU and is also in the final year of her community development degree.  Here are some highlights from their discussion with Thomas Kerr, on April 28, 2016. 

Tom:  Can you tell us a little about your experiences as tenants in Portland? 

Lynn:  I’ve lived in Portland most of my life.  As teenagers, we cruised Broadway every night meeting boys.  I’ve gone to every Rose Festival and can tell you all about Portland beer.  I didn’t get a chance to go to college until I was thirty-one.  Before that, I worked mostly in call-centers.  I’ve watched house prices go up and knew I’d probably never own a home, but I always thought I’d be able to rent.  But several years back, my fiance Aaron and I started having housing problems.  We couldn’t find apartments near work, and we both had credit issues.  So first we stayed with his mother, then we lived in a dilapidated farm house out in Newburg, where five of us split the $700 rent.  When I got pregnant in 2012, I got laid off and we couldn’t find anything we could afford out there, so we ended up renting the “bonus room” of a couple in Greenburg who were facing foreclosure.  I lived there with Aaron, my son and my step-daughter.  The room got mold, though, so we moved in with my step-mother for six months. 

After that, we found a two-bedroom basement apartment in Hillsdale that belonged to a customer of Aaron’s landscaping materials business.  Both of us had poor credit and medical debts, we’d both been divorced, we lived on one irregular income and had a small child.  But I could pay the rent in advance with student loans, and those people decided they liked us and said OK.  The rent was $900, which seemed like a lot three years ago, but I quickly realized it’s cheap.  My landlord says she’d rather have a long-term tenant who cares about the property than be rotating through tenants and hasn’t raised the rent.  Meanwhile, the neighborhood is gentrifying around us, with affluent commuters in the tech industry.  Apartments that advertised for $700 in 2012 now go for $1,400, and they didn’t even remodel.  We’ve thought about finding a smaller place downtown, closer to campus and to Wilder’s preschool, but because we have a child, the laws say we need two bedrooms, and bigger apartments downtown are beyond our budget. 

Melissa:  For the last three years, I’ve lived with my partner Dustin in Buckman Kerns, where I look after my grandmother who lives nearby.  Our one-bedroom apartment is in a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) building, which means the rent is “affordable” o someone with the Area Median Income (AMI), but not to low-income people like me.  I recently got a 90-day notice that my $950 rent will go up to $1,075 – a 13% increase in one year.  At first, we thought we’d downsize and relocate, but there aren’t many vacancies in this neighborhood, and I need to be near my grandmother, so I’ll just have to pay the higher rent, even though it will take more than half my income. 

I live paycheck to paycheck and can honestly say I’m often just one paycheck away from being homeless.  Because I’m a student and also work, I receive food stamps.  And luckily, I got a job on campus, but that luckily comes with the drawback of $9.50-an-hour poverty wages.  Like all low-income tenants, I’ve learned to rob Peter to pay Paul, paying utility bills late and racking up overdraft fees to keep the apartment.  But I’m consistently behind.  My student debt-to-income ratio will probably never allow me to buy a home, but I do struggle with the question of whether I’ll ever be able to afford to have children and give them healthy and secure housing to grow up in. 

Tom:  What effects do you see rising rents, evictions and the housing insecurity having on people’s lives and families? 

Lynn:  When it comes to housing, everything is connected to everything else – where you work, where your kids go to school, where your support systems are.  If you start out with secure housing as your basis for survival, you can do everything else.  Housing is the main thing.  When people don’t have secure housing, they often don’t have health care or educational opportunities, they spend too much commuting to work or to affordable grocery stores, they’re unhealthy and worried all the time and their families and marriages are falling apart.

We’re told our lives are the culmination of choices we’ve made, but they’re not.  When people become homeless, many say, “Oh, it was their choices.”  But homelessness is a culmination of bunch of really bad crap happening to a person, one thing on top of the other.  People are having to make a bunch of choices around their housing that aren’t really choices at all.  In my case, if we become a two-income household, we won’t qualify any more for medical from the state for my son with type-1 diabetes.  And if I rack up a lot of student debt to get my degree, we may not be able to afford rent.  What kind of choices are these? 

Melissa:  The housing crisis is taking away my ability to feel like I have any choice.  I almost feel guilty for living in my neighborhood, because it’s hip and close-in and I can’t afford it.  But I need to be there to take care of my grandmother.  And even if I moved, the rents in the farther-out neighborhoods and suburbs are going up almost as fast.   

 Lynn:  We joined a group of tenants recently at a meeting of the Multnomah County Commissioners on the effects of insecure housing on people’s health.  Several people testified and it was very emotional.  One woman with cancer described how she’d finally found cheap housing, but was going to be no-cause evicted, because she lived in a popular area.  There was also a story about a guy in Lake Oswego who barricaded himself inside his apartment in a standoff with the police, because of a rent increase, and he killed himself.  This is life or death for people. 

Tom:  If rents keep increasing and people keep having to move to cheaper apartments, what effect do you see all that human turnover having on Portland’s neighborhoods, and on the city as a whole?   

 Melissa:  The housing market is already changing the city dramatically.  It’s making landlords greedy and creating an us-and-them mentality.  When people tell me they moved up here from California, I catch myself wanting to slap them and go “Move back!”  But another part of me knows we should live in a place where if people want to move here, they can. 

Lynn:  We’ve been taught that Portland is supposed to be very diverse, it’s supposed to be all-income, you can love who you want, marry who you want.  “Keep Portland Weird” is the motto.  We are a bunch of neighborhoods socked together in one city, each neighborhood has its own culture, its own food, music, landmarks, history, relationships, housing.  The interconnectedness of all those things is what makes a place worth living in.  But rents go up, people get pushed out, businesses go.  And in the process, we lose the things that made Portland so cool.  Will Portland still be cool if all the low-income and working-class and people of color get pushed out?  Maybe in some loose form.  But it will be gutted. 

Melissa:  Rising rents are also making neighborhoods transient places.  We watch the moving pods come and go constantly.  When I tell older people how my rent increases every time my lease comes up, they say that never used to happen.  Housing is a fundamental human need, but it’s become a commodity, an investment, like shares in McDonalds.

Lynn:  Tenants are second-class citizens in this city.  With the shortage of apartments and low vacancy rates, it’s a landlord’s market.  Tenants have no power.  The laws are against us too.  Most legislators making decisions in Salem are landlords themselves, and the developers lobby in Oregon fights tooth and nail against any progressive policies for renters.  Yes, it’s good we got the 90-day no-cause eviction rule, but it’s like finding out you have cancer and being told to cheer up, because you have 90 days before you die.  Yippee!   

Tom:  How have you both gotten involved in the tenant movement and with housing issues in the city?

Lynn:  What draws me to tenant advocacy is watching people who’ve done everything right – graduated high school, went to college, worked hard, didn’t break any laws – but they’re still in a situation with unstable housing.  A sociology professor I have a lot of respect for told me, “Do something that you really want to do, because hardly any jobs pay enough money to live anymore.”  I didn’t fully get it then, but after sitting through his classes, I began to see where I fit in to this capitalist system, and how closely the housing crisis is related to what’s happening to wages and income inequality.  We always assumed each generation would have a better life, better work, better opportunities, better housing than the generation before.  But that vector has come to a screeching halt.  I know the same thing is happening all over the US and all over the world.  But I have no control over that.  In Portland I feel I do have some small amount of control, because this is my place. 

Tom:  What kind of things can tenants do to fix these big problems, either individually or as a group, to make Portland a more renter-friendly?   

Lynn:   One very important thing is to build organizations which bring tenants together, represent their interests, lobby for change and get out information about tenant laws.  The Community Alliance for Tenants (CAT) is one.  Another is the Portland Tenants Union (PTU), which loosely formed from a Facebook page called PDX Renters Unite.  Through that, tenants like me, who were posting a lot on the page, showing up to city council meetings and going to neighborhood meetings, could get involved in grassroots organizing.  Melissa and I have both joined PTU.  These tenant organizations were active in getting the city to declare the housing state of emergency and in getting people to rally and testify in the state legislature and in housing forums.  They’ve also used the mayoral race to push the issue of affordable housing into the political spotlight. 

Melissa:  When I got my rental increase notice, I posted it on the PDX Renters Unite Facebook page, just so people knew the struggle was universal.  I wasn’t asking for help, but when our state representative Alissa Keny-Guyer commented on my post, “I will be looking into this,” it helped to know my legislator was trying to find out what’s going on. 

In my community development courses, we learn about other parts of the world where people live together in real communities, in complicated patterns of interdependence.  It’s been eye-opening to realize that we don’t have that kind of society here – we don’t live communally at all.  We’re all on our own, and nobody’s going to save us.  It’s scary.  I think it’s important to break that isolation, get to know our neighbors, have conversations about the issue with our classmates, and start building our communities.  Agitating from outside the system is important, but I would rather work within the system to get the legislators and people in power to understand, in a more proactive way.  That means talking to people, planting seeds, building relationships and being more vocal about my experience as a tenant.  Talking about our personal finances makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but I’m starting to realize that there are many in my situation, drowning in student debt, getting rent increases and having to pay too much of their income on rent.  These common problems can bring us together and make our predicament feel a little more like a community.  

Lynn:  Other ways of making an impact are getting involved in your kids’ school, lobbying your elected officials, going to city council meetings and public forums, joining your neighborhood association meetings – basically infiltrating the system and making yourself heard.  The housing crisis is on everybody’s radar now, and conversations are going on everywhere.  Most of our elected officials grew up in wealthy neighborhoods and don’t know anything about homelessness or the experience of being a vulnerable renter.  They don’t have many opportunities to hear people’s stories, and this is your chance.  The neighborhood associations are mostly homeowners, and you’re assumed to have no interest in the community if you’re a renter.  But Portland’s neighborhoods are full of renters.  So I keep going.  We have to get both tenants and owners to care about their neighborhoods – not just the buildings and parks, but the people, the relationships, the history of being together.

Lynn Hager and her son Wilder at home

Melissa:  In San Francisco, tenants have organized huge rent strikes and occupied buildings to protest rising rents.  There’s been talk of organizing a rent strike here too, but that freaks me out a little.  As a first-generation student who grew up in poverty and is now going to school and trying to build a life for myself, thinking about doing something illegal like that scares me.  Because my income has always been low, I don’t have much credit history, and the one thing I rely on for credit checks is my rental history.  As soon as I tarnish that, what will my options be?

Lynn:  When you’ve grown up in systemic poverty, like Melissa and me, and you work hard to pull yourself up out of that, you’re constantly afraid that it’s going to be taken away.  It’s the same with being a renter in a volatile housing market like ours:  you live in fear of losing your housing, even if you’ve gotten lucky with your landlord, like me.

Melissa:  A lot of people say rent control won’t work – it’ll discourage new housing construction and landlords will stop maintaining their buildings.  But when you talk to tenants, they all want to stay where they are, don’t want to keep moving every time the rent goes up.  So rent control laws that limit rent increases could work.  I don’t know much about the mechanics of rent control- we’ve never experienced it here in Portland – but I know it’s a major thing PTU is pushing.

Lynn:  We also need to build a lot of new housing – not the hoity-toity stuff, but genuinely affordable housing for various sizes of families and all over Portland.  The city is going to throw $340 million at the affordable housing problem this year, but that won’t buy much, compared to the need.  And now we have inclusionary zoning, which may help.  Our real issue is poor federal housing policies, which haven’t changed since the 1980s.  So states and counties and cities have to pick up the slack. 

Thomas Kerr is an architect and writer who recently moved to Portland after working in Asia for 25 years, first in Pune India, and then in Bangkok with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights.

Women in the Trades


An interview with Connie Ashbrook and Nora Mullane

Liza:  How did you first get involved in the trades?

Nora:  I first started in the trades through a carpenters’ apprenticeship program in 1979, in Ohio. Came to Oregon and worked here in the apprenticeship program for about four and a half, five years. And within the Union for probably another four or five years following that and then went out on my own as a general contractor doing small remodeling projects and home additions.

Connie:  That experience as a carpenter gave you the credentials to apply for the City jobs. And you were very influential as one of the first women to get into those positions.

Nora:  When I started in my apprenticeship program in Ohio, I was the only one. They weren’t really sure what to do with me. When I came to Oregon, there were a couple of other women in the carpenters’ apprenticeship program. My first job, which was working on the I-205 exchanges, big bridge work and construction and concrete form work for those…the big walls and the platforms and everything. There was one other woman on the job site. And it was wonderful, you know, that I had one other female face. I mostly did heavy construction and bridge work in my program, because that was a lot of what Union carpenters did out here. I worked on the KOIN building and a lot of bridge work which was really tough.

Liza:  Physically difficult?

Nora:  Physically very hard. The skills I learned during my apprenticeship program of getting on the job site and just doing what you had to do that day and forcing yourself to have confidence in yourself, helped me then be on my own working. And taking on new jobs that I’d never done before and saying, oh sure, I can do that. And then going home and quick-studying up whatever I could to figure out: how do I build a cabinet?

The work in the Union and the heavy construction had a whole different set of challenges in terms of being alone, being in a male environment, having it be such hard work, physically, and for quite a while being in that alone setting. But then we organized, through a lot of Connie’s work and others…other women in the trades by a group called Oregon Tradeswomen Network, which became kind of this tremendous support, psychologically for going back out every day, even though you were in this, sometimes, not-friendly  environment. But knowing that you were part of a larger community of women who were all trying to do this and make their way.

So then working on my own and knowing after a while in that kind of work that I couldn’t go through my entire work history as a carpenter. I worried about how my body would hold up. So then I applied for a job at the City of Portland and became a building inspector. And was a building inspector for quite a number of years before I went into management for the City. But then I was kind of in that same situation again of mostly in a male environment and working out in the field with mostly males, the contractors, almost exclusively. Again, having to kind of make my way. There were more women hired as inspectors. So eventually it didn’t feel quite so alone. There was one women there before I was. So I had some sense of camaraderie.

Liza:  As a woman, were the challenges significantly different when you were working in the field of construction than when you were working for the Bureau of Development Services?

Nora:  I think the difference might have just been that the City was more subtle…in terms of my co-workers, because there was more oversight and more…I was part of the Union program there as well. And I think there was more education and care and support in that environment, but still people who did not like that I was there. I never felt so much difficulty out in the field, on the job site where I was doing the inspections. There was just a little bit more of it in the office environment.

In construction, it could be pretty blatant, unpleasant and scary, and bewildering. [I remember] multiple times someone saying to me, you are taking the job from a man. And when I was younger, I was bewildered by it. That didn’t make any sense to me. And I had to grow into a better understanding of gender inequity and struggle.

I did have terrific people too; lots of great folks that I worked with and was very appreciative of their willingness to be alongside of me.

Liza:  Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started?

Connie:  Very similar experience to Nora. 1979 or ’78. I didn’t go to college. I’d been working waiting tables. A friend of mine was going into a crane operator job. She suggested that I check out working in construction. I thought it sounded interesting. But I wasn’t sure if I could operate heavy equipment. So she told me about a dump truck driving, pre-apprenticeship program that was going to be run by the Department of Labor. It was short-term, five weeks or so. I learned how to drive an off-the-road dump truck, and on the road too. I worked for about six months, maybe seven. Most of the time that I worked I was out in Eastern Oregon straightening out a section of Highway 26 between John Day and Vale. I’m a city girl. It was quite the experience to be in Eastern Oregon and living in a little, tiny campground in one of those campers that fit on the back of a pickup. It was wonderful and exciting and scary all at the same time.

I got laid off from that job. I’d gotten into this network of women who were working in the trades, just through word of mouth. I heard about another pre-apprenticeship program helping women learn to be carpenters. Like Nora, I worked on the I-205 interchange system, the I-205 to the airport. I still get a thrill when I go down this beautiful, curving off-ramp from I-205 to the airport. It was really exciting to see that come out of the dirt, from just flat dirt to all the pillars and the decking and the support systems and the barricades. I worked with my team to build all these wooden concrete forms that then were filled with concrete and paved with this bridge. I loved that part of it, to see the results of your work every day and to work with a team.

I had similar experiences with Nora with my team. They had mixed feelings. Sometimes they accepted me as a coworker, we enjoyed each other’s company, and we got things done. And we laughed and had fun. Other times they were bewildered and didn’t know what to do with me, or how to talk around me or act with me. So I was very lucky, I had a great foreman, Joe Cogan. He was tickled to have a woman apprentice. He liked to teach. I liked to learn. So it was a good match. He taught me as much as he could. The weird thing was that he started talking about how if two carpenters would get married they’d make a lot of money together. He just kind of…I believe he was teasing me. He knew that it made me uncomfortable to have him say these things. But anyway, it did make me…I didn’t know how to handle it. So I just kind of ignored it. But it did get to me after a while.

So then, the recession hit of the early 80s, like around ’81 or so. I had gotten laid off from the bridge. It was done, basically. So I enjoyed being laid off for a while. But then I was ready to go back to work and couldn’t find work. As carpenters at that time – it’s still true today – you get your work by going to a job site and asking the foreman to hire you. So this is a really scary process because you go to these huge jobs, you have to find the foreman and you have to ask them for work. You’re supposed to go there dressed for work, with all your tools with you and look like you’re ready to start right that minute. And you’re supposed to go early in the morning. So I did that to a lot of jobs. I kept being laughed at. I mean, Nora is tall. I’m very short. [chuckles]  And so, I think they took her more seriously as somebody who could be a carpenter. I think they were not quite sure about me. I mean, there were plenty of small guys, my size, working as carpenters. But I’m 5’3″…5’2″ and a half, 5’3″. But just this image of this little woman coming on the job asking for work, they laughed at me. It was very discouraging

So then a friend of mine… Again, this is very typical for construction, most jobs are gotten through word of mouth. So a friend told me about a job, it was similar to apprenticeship but not quite apprenticeship that was opening up in the elevator constructors. So I went and applied at the Union and applied at my company. So I had to do both. I had to be accepted by the Union and accepted by my company. So if there were no apprentices on the out of work list, then my company could choose somebody.

They had never hired a woman before and they were not sure about hiring me. The General Manager said, well, we need to have a woman for our job because it’s federal money, so we’re considering you, but we’re not sure if you could do the work. One of us thinks you’re too small. So we went in the back of the shop area where they had these heavy…they called them rails that elevators ride on inside a building. Elevators are sort of like building a little train inside of a building and instead of going horizontal, it goes vertically. So it has tracks and wheels that hold the elevator on the tracks and a lot of machinery and motors. So we looked at these rails. I had been weightlifting. And so I knew I was strong enough to pick that up. I said, I’ll pick up this end if you pick up the other, because I was pretty sure that two people always lifted this thing, because it was a couple hundred pounds. They had suits on, and it was dirty and greasy. And so they said, no, no, that’s alright. We believe you. And they hired me. [All laugh]  So I like to say I got my job because of affirmative action, but I kept it because I was good at it.

Connie:  My first job as an Elevator Constructor was installing the elevators at the Justice Center, then I worked a year installing at the KOIN tower, and from there I went to the VA Hospital installation. Worked there for a year. And then I got into the Service Department. Two years after that I passed my mechanics exam and got my license. And then I had my own service route that went around the area servicing and repairing elevators and escalators. My customers had to get used to me as a woman. They were good. They would say, oh good, the girl’s here. Now it’s going to be fixed right. That was very flattering. We took turns doing trouble calls at night, if something broke down and had an emergency fix. So I still ran into maintenance department people or building owners that would look at me and were like, whoa. I’m not sure if she can…Can she really fix my equipment?  They offered to carry my toolbox up the stairs. Because if the elevator is not working, you have to take the stairs up, however many stairs, to the mechanical room where the controls are. So I would laugh at them and I’d say, no. My one arm is longer than the other, so I have to carry it to even myself out. Just make some kind of silly joke.

 Liza:  What are the barriers that you see as the largest impediments to more women working in the trades?  Has that changed over time?

Connie:  It has changed. There’s triple the number of women than there were. It starts young with girls being told girls don’t do this. Then in middle and high school if you don’t take the math or the shop classes. And then if your neighbors and friends and family don’t think to say, oh hey, this is great summer job being a carpenter’s helper. It would be perfect for you. And so you accumulate those information, experiences and money that all positions you to take the next step and rise through the mostly invisible career ladder in the trades. It’s not something they teach in high school. They’re starting to teach more about apprenticeship. But most high school counselors and people that are providing career information will only know about college jobs and only teach about college jobs.

So the barriers of knowledge, experience, preparation, self-confidence which comes from all those messages that say that women can’t do this work or shouldn’t do this work. Then there is the barriers of less money for a decent car, less money to buy tools, greater family responsibilities and then the bias that…both overt bias and unconscious bias. Oh, what’s a little lady like you doing…thinking about doing this kind of job?  Don’t you want to be a secretary?   So versus, oh, we don’t want you here. You’re taking a man’s job. So those are two attitudes.

But we have seen a big difference. It helps a lot that the economy is better. During the recession women were laid off earlier and more often, and not hired more and dropped out more. Now that that recession is over and there’s a building boom, employers are really scrambling for women. At the same time, the people making hiring decisions, the foreman, superintendent, project managers, well, more of them are women. Women have risen through the ranks. More women have gone to engineering school. And they’re project engineers on construction sites. So they’re influencing their colleagues and also making hiring decisions. Most male construction workers have now worked with competent women construction workers. Not all. There’s still companies that refuse to hire women. But on most big jobs there’s at least a couple women that are great workers and great co-workers.

And men were raised by the feminists of the 70s. So many more men are accepting of women’s place in the workplace and authority and leadership and competence. At the same time, with Title 9 passing in 1972, more women got access to athletics where they could be become physically strong and do those physically challenging things, so that they were more ready, physically, for the heavy construction work.

Liza:  Oh, that’s a really interesting connection. I hadn’t thought about before.

Nora:  That would totally be my story. Because I went to college Title 9 had just…Well, the first year, it wasn’t there. And the second year it was there. And I was on the rowing team. And it was like the first time I really was like strong. It was like, wow, this is great. I love this. So the physical part of being in construction, I liked it. It was hard work. But I liked it. And I knew my body could do it. That was, really, a confidence builder.

You know, my own story about that was I had finished college but moved home afterwards. And I was sitting, looking, knowing I can’t just live at my parents’ house without doing something. So looking for work and saw the ad for the apprenticeship program. I didn’t have a clue, anything about it. And my dad came home from work that night and I said, so Dad, what do carpenters do on the job site?  We kind of talked about it a little bit. And then I just said, is that something I could do?  And he paused and said, yeah. Yeah, you could do that. And I, forever, am grateful to him to be open to the idea. Because it was really what then gave me huge confidence to go do the application process.

Liza:  In closing, is there anything else that you would like to add or you would like to share with our readers?

Nora: My own regard for my work in the business was valuable and important to me, as a person. I like to think that other women have that opportunity, because it’s been a huge basis of who I am to have overcome obstacles, worked hard, accomplished big things and made friendships and relationships with people who initially weren’t sure what to do with me. And finding the good there was an important part of my life. And breaking down those barriers and having people know that anybody could do this job if they’re able to put some muscle. [And] the financial benefit of it and being covered by a Union that makes sure everybody is paid equally was huge…a huge thing when I was starting…all those years ago.

Leveraging University/Community Engagement: An interview with Dr. Stephen Percy, Dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs

Sheila Martin: You’ve been the Dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs for about a year now. How is working at PSU different from other universities you’ve worked in?

Dean Percy: Compared to other universities, PSU is more heavily engaged with the community, and has been for a long time. I think that this university really understands and appreciates community engagement and it’s that very rich tradition that defines the institution.

I have spent most of my academic career working in urban universities, 23 years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and three at the University of Baltimore. Urban universities with their openness to educating diverse populations and their potential for meaningful community engagement are where I feel most at home—where I believe my leadership makes most sense.

Indeed, it is university-community engagement that brought me to Portland.  Back in 2000 when Chancellor Nancy Zimpher came on board at the UW-Milwaukee, she came up with a vision to build on the “Wisconsin Idea,” the notion that “the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.” Chancellor Zimpher asked, what’s the 21st Century urban version of the Wisconsin idea? And that led us to embark on the Milwaukee Idea, a variety of initiatives to build university/community engagement. But in creating that, we looked around the country to other universities that were doing this work. And Portland State was the shining example. PSU was a leader.  From that time on, I have had great respect for PSU and when the dean position in the PSU College of Urban and Public Affairs became available, I simply had to explore the leadership opportunity.

It’s the urban character that puts both PSU and the UW-Milwaukee where the action is, the artistic, economic, social heart of the state. Access to the community becomes a very important part of the mission of urban institutions.  As a result, I think both universities are transforming lives in very fundamental ways.

Sheila Martin: What are your initial thoughts about the college’s role in the region?

Dean Percy: One of the advantages of College of Urban and Public Affairs is its rich array of institutes and centers that, together, have long histories, great capacity and energy, and real impact. The academic programs here in the College of Urban and Public Affairs are also really powerful and relevant in today’s world.  Urban and regional planning, governance and public management, criminology and criminal justice, and public health are all at the forefront of our nation’s challenges and opportunities.

I recently asked my staff to create an inventory of projects and initiatives in which our college faculty and centers and institutes have engaged in the State of Oregon since January 2013. So far we have counted 190 distinct projects—efforts designed to support effective government, urban and regional planning, health, and public policy.  This is a powerful measure of CUPA’s impact in our community, region and state.

And another thing I would say is that Portland is a place where its residents care about governance, planning, and the region’s future in a richer and a deeper way than any other community in which I’ve lived. That doesn’t mean that other cities don’t care about those things, but it is so deep in the culture here.  There are powerful notions here about sustainability and smart planning to manage urban growth and emphasize density in order to preserve natural lands and assets. There is such a strong awareness here of stewardship, that is valuing and protecting the region’s natural beauty and resources.

So if you’re going to have a school of public affairs, and you want that school to be able to get involved and have impact, you could hardly pick a better place than Portland. It’s a community that’s willing to ask questions and have important conversations. And that kind of questioning needs the kind of knowledge, convening, and research that a university can provide, and we have that here. It makes CUPA extremely relevant to Portland. 

Sheila Martin:  How do you think that willingness to engage is connected to the fact that the university is located within the city?

Dean Percy: Well, the centrality of our location is really a wonderful asset because we are literally within walking distance of so many key public policy arenas. So our location makes it easy for us to engage in so many arenas of public policy debate and decision making.

I think that as visibility and appreciation for the university increase—and I think that is happening, as it is for many urban research universities—there’s even more likelihood that people will want to become involved and connect with us as a potential asset in all kinds of planning, governance, and problem solving to enhance life quality. I’ve seen in other universities that, when people learn that you’re a willing and relevant community partner, not just a bunch of scholars focused on their own fields, people’s willingness and interest in having you at the table increases dramatically.

Sheila Martin: What have you identified as the most important opportunities for the college to serve the community better?

Dean Percy: Well, I would say a few things.  First, my goal is for the college to become the go-to place for public policy and planning. That’s already happening, so we’re not starting from zero. But I’d like to ratchet it up even more, so that if the community has a public policy or planning issue, and they need answers, they will think—we’ve got to call the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State because that asset base is so important. 

Second, I think this college is at an interesting point where it could be a catalyst within PSU to do things at a more campus-wide level, rather than just at a college level. I’ll give you an example.  I recently convened a meeting of all PSU deans to explore how the university as a whole could embrace the public challenges of an aging population. The college has the Institute on Aging, which is a very important core in this effort.  

The issues related to aging are so emergent, so in need of an interdisciplinary approach.  Our college can be a catalyst for bringing other people together on the issues. I believe we will have a significant leadership role.  Not the leadership role, but an important role, just the same. And if we approach the issue of aging from a holistic, multi-disciplinary perspective, I think the university as a whole will benefit. This whole notion of collaboration is, at least in the back of my mind, one of the key challenges we have in promoting civic life and life quality in general.

Sheila Martin: So collaboration within the university is a key to serving the community better?

Dean Percy: Well, yes, that and collaboration with relevant partners. And this gets to the notion of collective impact. We think about technology and how it’s changing things—like improving medical records, healthcare, and other things.  We’re relying on technology to be a huge problem solver. It can be. But in solving and responding to human problems, technology may be only one asset.  What’s also needed is for people to step out of their own realms to do something together for a collective impact. And our capacity to harness human ideas and initiatives and to bring together relevant organizations to work together is just in its infancy. 

How many times are you going to hear, well, if only we could work together?  But we often don’t. And it’s hard to do.  But that’s the challenge of moving forward in the 21st Century—how to harness talent and energy and organizations to collectively pursue issues. And I think a university has this wonderfully unique space where it can operate. In many ways it’s a safe place for collaboration. It’s often—not always, but often—a step back from the political world, and can serve as a kind of neutral convener in many cases.  Our collaborative governance people in the National Policy Consensus Center have some very good strategies for doing that.

We also focus on creating and disseminating knowledge. Evidence-based work is in heavy demand—predictive analysis, big data—these are things a university can provide. So we’re in this wonderful place where we can be an important node for some of this work.  We can be a kind of “collaborative open space” where ideas can be expressed and knowledge can be exchanged. 

What I’ve found is that communities generally appreciate what universities can provide—especially when universities demonstrate that they understand the need to operate on a community timeframe, not an academic timeframe. When you have research centers like CUPA does that are organized to be responsive to requests, and when you have faculty and administrators who understand the importance of collaborative partnerships, and when you understand your value-added—when you get all those things right—the university is more and more valued.

Sheila Martin: You mentioned the importance of the university as a supporter of collaborative processes.  And you mentioned aging as one of the potential subjects for that.  Are there some other general subjects that the university could support the community in?

Dean Percy: Well, another one we’re working on, largely at the college level, is strengthening our role in the field of nonprofit management to support a vibrant and resilient nonprofit sector in greater Portland and, really, across Oregon. Again, we’re not starting from scratch.  We’ve done great work, but there is more we can do. I’ve been meeting with nonprofit leaders who are encouraging us to get more involved. And, again, we’re working to find the University’s value-added, so as not to get in the way or disrupt other work that’s going on, but so we can contribute in the best ways possible. So we’ll be looking at our courses, our programs, our outreach, our engagement and our capacity in that area.

Another subject of interest is the notion of serving as a think tank by bringing together the diverse and rich resources of this college in areas like planning, convening, urban studies, collaborative governance, regional analysis, and economic analysis to create some sort of central “thought space” for greater Portland and Oregon.  By that I mean a place where big ideas and future-focused thinking can be explored, examined, and inform public policies that protect and advance life quality in the community.

I think that much of the work that the Institute for Portland Metropolitan Studies has been doing has been contributing to just this kind of thing:  regional convening, thought processes, bringing people together, and having an effective advisory board that represents different communities and stakeholders. These things, like so many great accomplishments of our centers and institutes, are pivotal. The great work is already happening; so maybe the idea of being a think-tank is just about recognizing and harnessing the talent we have and elevating our work in order to create a place for more great ideas to spring up. And again, a lot of that has to do with our rethinking collaboration within the college, and identifying community needs and interests.         

Sheila Martin: The last question is sort of softball.  What favorite places have you discovered in the region?

Dean Percy:  I haven’t done as much discovering as I want to.  Well, it’s trite to say the restaurant scene is very exciting.  I love the Coast.  I love the downtown and the Pearl—just being there.  I love living in a near-in neighborhood.  I guess you’d call Burlingame “near in.”  I have a restful place to live, yet I am ten minutes away from all kinds of fun and things to do. The funny thing about picking a place to live here is that everyone you know lobbies for you to pick their neighborhood because their neighborhood is “really cool.” There is a really strong neighborhood identity here. Portland is a great place to live and work!

Cultivating the technology ecosystem: An interview with Skip Newbury


Skip Newbury is President and CEO of the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO). He is a frequent speaker on technology trends and topics, economic development, public-private partnerships and civic innovation. Before joining the TAO, Skip served as an economic development policy advisor to Portland Mayor Sam Adams, where he helped create Portland’s first comprehensive economic development strategy in 16 years, recognizing software as a key industry cluster.

Sheila: Please tell us about your role in the tech community in the Portland region. 

Skip: The Technology Association of Oregon serves as a tech trade association for Oregon and Southwest Washington. We work with over 430 tech and tech-enabled companies. And by tech-enabled I mean companies that are using technology or developing technology in some interesting ways that drive innovation.

Our vision is to create a world class, inclusive innovation economy in the region that’s powered by tech. We work with companies in several ways to create a vibrant technology community and add value to their business.

Our first focus is on the business, regulatory, and policy environment in which companies operate. That includes looking at the inputs to growth—primarily capital and people.

Second, we focus on the regulatory environment as it relates to technology development. And through that lens we evaluate a number of different policies and legislative initiatives and decide whether we want to get involved on behalf of the technology community.

The other thing that we do is connect companies and employees within the region through professional development. This involves supporting different communities of interest, or peer groups that are organized around different functional areas in a tech company. This is done in service of the larger goal of strengthening organizations. And to do so we need to be able to focus on individuals and then look at the ways that they work together within companies.

Our professional development is less focused on individual skills like communication skills or leadership training. TAO is more focused on training for different development methodologies, whether it’s Agile or Waterfall or, we might talk about how companies address the inherent tension between IT and marketing—customer success versus development. How do you get them to come together? Are you compressing the chasm between the two? There’s a lot of work that we do in that space.

We are operating five labs that are focused on areas where the technology industry locally is having an outsized impact on the region’s economy. The labs are focused on providing the leadership to improve the overall environment and the competitiveness of the companies within it.

The labs engage in policy related initiatives or program design that helps inform and reinforce the events and programming. For example we’ve developed workforce initiatives where we’ve connected companies to faculty in a university that are interested in developing an internship program, and we’ve helped the companies connect with the university to figure out whether it makes sense to do an internship or align curricula or design a new program.

The five labs include cyber security; smart city, smart infrastructure; talent and culture; digital health; and augmented virtual reality and gaming.

We also have been doing a fair amount of the work you would expect an association to do―PR and storytelling. We provide visibility to the companies by describing their activities and the trends they are a part of.

One way to think of the TAO is that we focus on macro-level problems and macrolevel solutions on behalf of companies as a collection. And some of what we do within that work is connecting companies that otherwise wouldn’t know that the other exists. We provide a connection that helps companies and workers get out of their silos.

Sheila: We’ve been doing a series of articles about workforce issues. In the last issue we looked at the history of women in trades. And, in previous work we’ve looked at the diversity, or lack thereof, in a number of industries, especially what we call high opportunity occupations.

We’re curious about the challenge that high tech companies face in Oregon regarding their employment needs. Can you tell us about some of the obstacles they face and how you’re helping to address those?

Skip: Yes, we are focused on the need to fill positions that are available in tech. We recently completed an economic impact study of the industry since the recession. At the end of the recession we found that companies added about twenty thousand jobs in Oregon since the recession—a significant growth in that period of time.

The question is whether we are graduating sufficient numbers of, for example, computer science and engineering grads. Those new grads are not sufficient to meet the junior talent hiring needs of the companies—even if we assume that everyone who’s graduating with a computer science or electrical engineering degree stays in the State, which is not true. A lot of them find employment elsewhere. So we’re still a little bit short in terms of meeting the need presented by the increase in new jobs being created in tech.

And so, companies are doing two things to make up for the shortfalls. At a more senior level, companies may be, in some cases, poaching from one another, resulting in a zero sum game. But they’re also importing talent, and right now Oregon is doing reasonably well on the talent importation. Just as, on a whole, Oregon was the number one place for people to move to, according to certain studies over the last three years in a row.

There’s also a demographic trend where a lot of the more mature tech hubs on the West Coast, like Silicon Valley for example, are overheating. It’s becoming unaffordable, even for highly paid tech folks. And, they’re looking at the quality of life they enjoy and they say, we think we can probably do better. And so there’s been a bit of an exodus of tech talent to more affordable, more desirable places to live where there’s still opportunities to either work remotely for Silicon Valley-based companies or there’s enough local companies that are interesting career-wise where they’re willing to make the leap.

There’s still a pay differential between Portland and Silicon Valley, depending on the job. That differential can be as high as twenty to twenty-five percent. But even though Portland tech wages are lower, they can have stronger purchasing power when you take into account the higher quality of life and somewhat lower expenses for housing, food, travel, etcetera, than in the Bay area. What we’re worried about beyond the near term is the population pressures and strained infrastructure here. Over time, if more isn’t done to improve our infrastructure, whether its transportation systems or affordable housing stock, there is a chance that our quality of life, which is seemingly our competitive advantage right now relative to places like Silicon Valley, will start to erode and we’ll become less competitive.

And similarly, we’re also paying attention beyond the near term to things like migration trends. Longer term, most successful tech hubs have been able to grow their own talent base. And so, tech companies here are paying attention to the fact that they need to both have a focus on continuing to recruit people in, but also they can’t ignore the need to create a local talent base looking at mid- and long-term opportunities.

Companies are also beginning to recognize the need to start pretty early on. You can intervene in high school with some success, but the earlier you intervene the better the chances of someone pursuing a career and getting the skills that they need as they move through the school system and then post-graduation into either community college, four year degrees, or directly into employment.

There’s a number of different avenues. And companies are looking at how they can play a role in helping to influence peoples’ career decisions earlier on. Part of that is inviting the students in and developing stronger relationships with local schools so that they can invite them into tech companies for tours or job shadow days, or sending employees from tech companies into the schools to do sessions. It’s demystifying and making more accessible and human the idea of working in tech. So, there are some of those efforts underway.

There’s also, I think, recognition on the part of the companies of the need to advocate for certain types of programs within higher education that can better prepare students to hit the ground running upon graduation. Also helping to advocate for more resources at the state level to help the universities to educate more students. The tech industry is starting to see some success nationally in the last four to five years of raising awareness around STEAM fields. This is especially important as the bulge of people coming through the K-12 system right now hits higher ed. This bulge of people coming through will be looking for opportunities to pursue degrees after high school. Are we going to be ready for that? Do we have the resources for public schools to do what needs to be done at the higher ed level? I think that’s all a big question mark. And so, companies are starting to think about these things in ways that maybe they haven’t in the past.

Tech companies are also becoming more aware of demographic shifts in the marketplace and the consumers of technology. This is not just happening in Oregon; it’s a national phenomenon. And those trends are towards greater diversity. Companies recognize that their competitive advantage in the marketplace is all premised on the speed with which they can develop new products and then deploy them into the marketplace. But, with that speed there also has to be the calibration of their tech and their solutions with what the market wants.

And, to the extent companies are able to compress the time and the precision with which they’re able to deliver solutions to the marketplace, they’re going to be ahead of their competitors. That means they need people that understand a customer base and also have the technical skills to develop the products that those customers want.

And so if you’re a company that has a relatively homogeneous development, customer support, and marketing workforce you’re in trouble. Because you’re not going to necessarily have the ability to anticipate and also recognize what the market needs. Companies are starting to look differently at design elements and user experience, and how people from a cultural standpoint approach technology. And so, even from a purely capitalistic standpoint, companies recognize that having a diverse workforce matters.

We are also aware of research that shows how diversity fosters innovation. Companies looking to stay ahead of the curve and ahead of their competitors are challenging themselves to promote more diversity in background, thought, leadership, and perspective, because it will generate innovation.

Many of these companies are under a lot of short-term pressure to provide a return to their venture capital investors. They are trying to grow as fast as they possibly can in as short a period of time as possible. And, they’re trying to effectively fill positions with people who can hit the ground running immediately. And yet they recognize the medium- and short-term need to invest in diverse talent development. How do they reconcile that with their board and investors who are saying, no, no, forget about that. We’ll worry about that later when we hit the next milestone. Instead focus on delivering on sales and product delivery. And you need people that can do this yesterday, so―

Sheila: Because having that narrow focus is what gets people pointed in the right direction and moving. But in the longer term it’s the investment in talent development that will lead you toward that end, right?

Skip: It could. Yes, it could. And so, there’s a couple of different competing schools of thought there. Like how soon can a company realistically focus on some of these longer term issues in a way that’s meaningful and substantive without it being a drain on where they’re trying to get in the short term.

And so what we’ve seen is that a lot of the larger companies have taken more of a leadership role. They’ve reached a certain threshold in their development and their size where they have some resources internally to devote to, for example, bringing on some more junior people than they could otherwise when they were younger and smaller.

Interns and apprentices require a fair amount of oversight. So, how big do you need to be before those junior hires, or interns or apprentices don’t become a drag on your more senior people where you’re trying to ship a product immediately? Where do you find the balance?

Sheila: So how does that overlap with the work that you do in supporting companies either with their own internal processes or with external policy issues?

Skip: We have a talent and culture lab that’s right now looking at really a three part focus. They are companies that care about getting professionals in front of kids as early as they possibly can so that they can inspire them to pursue a tech related education and training and then careers. The secondary focus is filling positions today, and ensuring a strong environment in those companies.

The third objective of this talent and culture lab is to understand how to retain people over time and grow them within the company. That requires a culture that’s welcoming and inclusive, and a structure that defines a clear career trajectory for people as they enter the company and then grow within. Are there resources you’re able to provide in terms of training and educational opportunities while on the job?

And for smaller companies, and maybe even some medium-sized companies, what we’re trying to do collectively as a community is look at things like apprenticeship programs and staffed internship programs where potentially there’s a community resource that can help take the burden off of individual companies to have the infrastructure that they need internally to work more with some of the junior talent. And that way it becomes less of a drain on their more senior resources.

And we’re serving a role in pulling together a variety of different resources and public sector entities and higher ed entities that are all trying to solve different pieces of the talent development continuum. We’re minimizing the number of competing meetings and outreach efforts. We’re helping to coordinate and align these different initiatives. And that is helping companies to see the full picture. So even if companies are not ready to commit to the full picture today, they are aware of the variety of resources available. We need to help support those too in the appropriate time. And, it’s a way for us to provide more efficiency on the part of the companies.

Sheila: So do you have thoughts about the importance of international talent in the Portland region?

Skip: Yeah. We know that Oregon and the Portland region is one of the whitest mid-sized or large cities in America. And at the same time, though, we’re starting to see greater diversity. I think for a long time now there have been some interesting anchor institutions, like Intel and Nike, that have attracted a more diverse and international workforce. And then you’ve got a number of other companies that are probably smaller and not quite as large a brand as those that also have a pretty diverse workforce. Just look at Beaverton. It is one of the most diverse communities in Oregon. And that’s a reflection in part of the large concentrations of companies that attract international talent. So there’s definitely some great assets in the region already there. But I think there’s also recognition that we need to do far more. And if you look at the success that Boston has had as an economy, a regional economy, but also as a tech hub, it’s in large part driven by the incredibly diverse―and in large part international―student body population that oftentimes chooses to stay there after graduation and to work there. And so if you look at things like rates of entrepreneurship there is evidence pointing to the important role that immigrant families play in that.

And so as we start to imagine the kind of a future we want to have here as a tech or innovation hub, it’s important for us to think about how we are attracting international students and professionals, and what we are doing to create a culture or a community that’s welcoming and attractive over the long haul to them and to their families.

Sheila: What about the federal policy aspects of international immigration? Have you taken any positions on that?

Skip: Yeah. As an association we’re part of a grassroots network of regional independent tech associations throughout the US and Canada. And we, as a collective group―fifty four different regions and associations are part of it―decided to issue a statement, I think it was two days after the President’s Executive Order on immigration just saying that we have concerns about this approach as an industry. I mean, tech relies―not just in Oregon, but in other markets too―heavily on people from all different backgrounds and nationalities.

And so making sure that we have a policy that is open and welcoming is not only part of what tech wants to see but I think a lot of the people that we talk to at the companies that we represent have this notion of the United States as a place where people who are at their company or founded their company came here because it was quote/unquote “the land of opportunity” and it was open. And for whatever reason they saw barriers in their own countries and saw this place as the one where they were going to make it. And I repeatedly hear that.

Just today I was talking to a startup founder who is still in the green card status. He said that he wouldn’t have been able to get the opportunities that he’s had just in the last year here with a startup if he were still in India. And so there’s definitely concern―and that’s putting it mildly in some cases―with the direction the Administration is going on immigration issues. Sheila: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Skip: No. I think that sums it up. Thanks.

Sheila: Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Skip.

Sheila Martin is Director of the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies and the Population Research Center at Portland State University. She directs the Institute’s community-oriented research and service activities.

Looking Back at Planning Oregon


An interview with Henry Richmond, co-founder of 1000 Friends of Oregon

Henry Richmond was just 32 in 1973, when he co-founded 1000 Friends of Oregon, an organization created to act as a watchdog for the newly formed land use system. He was the group’s first Executive Director and served in that capacity for more than 19 years. Henry is a practicing as an attorney in Portland and lives on a hazelnut farm on the Willamette River.

Richmond was interviewed by Jim Sitzman, whose career in land use in Oregon includes work with Metro and its predecessor, the Columbia Region Association of Governments (CRAG), where he assisted in drawing the first urban growth boundary around the Portland metropolitan area. He also served as a field representative for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

This interview was recorded in June, 2015 as part of People and the Land: An Oral History of Oregon’s Statewide Land Use Planning Program. Sponsored by the Department of Land Conservation and Development, and carried out by Planning Oregon, the project’s goal is to document and preserve a record of Oregon’s land use program through the recording, transcription, collection, and archiving of personal oral histories. The interview begins with Richmond’s rationale for founding 1000 Friends. This interview has been edited for length.

Henry Richmond: My interest was protecting farmland—not as a farmer but as a conservationist. I wasn’t thinking about the average citizen, I was thinking about building a political majority for the program because the environmental impulse as a value was too slender to support the rezoning of millions of acres with farm use.

Jim Sitzman: Could you share your thoughts about the significance of the comprehensiveness of Oregon’s statewide planning program?

Henry Richmond: It was comprehensive in terms of a range of subject matter, it was comprehensive geographically, and it was able to be comprehensive because of the urban growth boundary. In other words, the statewide planning goals required, as do most European or UK systems, the local governments to demark where we’re going to be urban and where we’re going to be rural. To me that’s the most important element of comprehensiveness in the Oregon planning program. A comprehensive plan, is important because it has the body of data that allows the zoning to be workable and to be effective. You would have to have both the comprehensive plan and the zoning and the zoning should follow the comprehensive plan.

Jim Sitzman: If there’s an area of land where there’s a conflict between what farmers and developers want, the boundary makes the separation, but the decision process for [where] to locate that boundary brings sections of the goals in conflict with each other.

Henry Richmond: In the process of establishing the urban growth boundary there’s a certain balancing and trade-offs that have to be made. It wasn’t about collaboration. It was about the counties doing a lousy job for decade after decade and the state legislature, under the leadership of Tom McCall, saying we’re going to do things differently.

It was a hard fought deal. There wasn’t a lot of collaboration. It was a blood bath and people were strongly in disagreement and gradually, I think, mainly because the farmers supported it, the public turned in favor of land use planning and Senate Bill 100.

The road has been pretty rocky for the last 15 years but I think we’ve survived and the political roots of Senate Bill 100 are sinking deeper into the soil in this state. I’m really confident that it’s going to survive and succeed beyond what it’s already succeeded in doing.

Jim Sitzman: Where do you think the urban growth boundary stands in that regard?

Henry Richmond: I don’t have the numbers but I believe that public polling shows that there’s really strong public support for urban growth boundaries and for farm zoning. The concept of an urban growth boundary—this is rural, this is urban—that’s the core of all planning systems in the industrial world whether it’s Sweden or Germany or Italy or the UK. Even in Chile they have urban/rural designations.

Jim Sitzman: What organizations have been most influential or perhaps have caused the most havoc for the adoption and implementation of Senate Bill 100?

Henry Richmond: The goals are strong and clear not because of any interest groups, whether it was the Oregon Environmental Council or the homebuilders or county governments. The goals were adopted the way they were because of L.B. Day and because of Jim Smart and because the other commissioners, by and large, followed their lead. 

L.B. understood agriculture. He was the head of a labor union whose members were truck drivers and cannery workers who wanted to see fruit and crops coming in the front door of the places where they worked whether it was the Hood River Valley, or down in Albany, or elsewhere. He understood the economic importance of agriculture to his people.

And Jim Smart is probably the main reason why we have a strong Goal 3, the agricultural lands goal. He had standing in agriculture, in the Farm Bureau, as somebody who’d been a leader in the Farm Bureau on non-land use issues, workmen’s comp, immigration, and labor laws. And he was the head of the Salem Cherry Grower’s Association.

It was these people, the members of the Commission, who were picked by Governor McCall, that are the reason we have strong statewide planning goals. It was strong personalities and people with conviction, people with courage, people who were willing to stare down lobbies. And they had the insight to build a constituency by having all those public meetings, some 70 of them, as I recall, in the course of 1974.

Jim Sitzman: Who or what influenced your understanding of the issues that should be addressed in the goals?

Henry Richmond: Beyond agriculture, I was concerned about the overrepresentation of interests that would favor development of natural resources. When I was in law school at University of Oregon, there was a lot of discussion about coastal planning and there was an entity called the Oregon Coastal Conservation and Development Commission (OCCDC). The Oregon coast is a very narrow strip of land, [where] only about four percent of the state’s population lives. But it’s important to the whole state and the OCCDC was supposed to come up with policies for coastal resources, beaches and dunes, estuaries, wetlands and so forth.

The legislature set the OCCDC up to be run by seven city commissioners, seven county commissioners and seven port commissioners, and they were supposed to come up with balanced policies. I thought they were coming up with terrible policies. That was one of the things that motivated me to get involved in Senate Bill 100 when I got out of law school and after I finished a clerkship with Jed Solomon in the federal court. I thought that the statewide planning goals should address the coastal issues.

Jim Sitzman: The bill contains language granting the Commission authority that has statewide significance. But that authority hasn’t been actively pursued. Do you have a perspective on why that has not happened?

Henry Richmond: The land use system hasn’t been a technical or legal issue mainly, it’s always been fundamentally a political issue. 1000 Friends of Oregon helped by getting the courts to reject certain interpretations of the law by counties and cities that would have rendered the law just mush, but the legislature can change the law anytime it wants—or the people can change the law, as interpreted by the courts, anytime the people decide to.

There was the acknowledgement review process going on. The Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) was constantly faced with the City of Newberg or the City of Bend proposing some outrageously big urban growth boundary and then having to say, no, you can’t do that.

There was always a risk of the LCDC budget being cut in the legislature or an initiative getting on the ballot. So, the LCDC quite sensibly concluded they had their hands full. The last thing they needed was to give somebody more grease for the mill to complain. If they could get the boundaries adopted, and 15 million acres of farmland rezoned to exclusive farm use, and 9 million acres limited to forest use, that would be enough.

Jim Sitzman: Survival and practicality are key.

Henry Richmond: Yes, and being sensitive to the fact that unless there’s a majority in the state and in the legislature in favor of the LCDC and Senate Bill 100, on any given vote in the legislature or any vote at the ballot box, if there’s not a majority there, the whole thing goes away. So, they were mindful of that. And, as I say, they had their hands full politically and they didn’t want to overload the situation.

Jim Sitzman: If Senate Bill 100 had not happened in the 70s could the legislation be passed today?

Henry Richmond: There were certainly a lot of wonderful planets in alignment in the early 70’s. We had a governor like Tom McCall who was committed to this. There were legislators who were knowledgeable about the issue. There was a progressive mayor in Portland, Neil Goldschmidt, who could have been a problem but he wasn’t. I mean because he wasn’t in the same party, but he supported it. 

There was a can-do atmosphere at the time. The Bottle Bill had happened in the prior session. But could it happen today? It happened in other states. In Florida and New Jersey and Maryland and all of those programs have come to nothing. They’ve either been just interpreted into nothingness or they’ve been repealed as is the case in Florida. The Hawaii program is still functioning. But could it happen again today? I don’t see the leadership for it. And I don’t see the support in the establishment in Portland the way you had it in the early 70’s. I don’t mean to be a downer but I don’t see the same bright stars leading Oregon today that there were then.

The other thing is that we had a newspaper that cared about this. The Oregonian cared about this. Herb Lundee wrote about it. Bob Landaeur, who ran the editorial page, and Larry Hildebrandt and Mary Kitsch wrote strong powerful editorials that were read by people in Salem and all over the state in favor of Senate Bill 100. Now you have a paper that’s not worth the paper it’s written on. It’s opposed to the program and that hurts.

Jim Sitzman: I think what you’ve pointed to there is something we need to be concerned about in not having bold leadership.

Henry Richmond: Well, the state is not as rich as it used to be. When the forest products industry was mechanized, both in mills and how forest lands are managed and timber is harvested, we still produce almost as much lumber and plywood as we did 30 or 40 years ago. But the industry is producing much less benefit economically to the state of Oregon because it has about 30 percent fewer employees. They have like ten guys running the whole mill, as opposed to 100. 

And at that time, Oregon was ten states above the average in terms of per capita income. Now we’re below the average. Weyerhaeuser used to be the biggest manufacturing employer, now Intel is. The per capita income is down and so there isn’t the revenue for the government to do the things that are needed for the public good like paving the roads, funding schools and so forth. We have to have a state that creates wealth and income for people.

Jim Sitzman: Were the forestry issues as important to these strong personalities that were promoting Senate Bill 100?

Henry Richmond: I don’t think they were at the forefront of people’s thinking as much because the forestland, a lot of it is federal land but the land base, the industrial land base, is actually increasing, the industrial timber base, there’s about nine million acres of private forestland in Oregon. Six million are owned by 20 companies, and three million are owned by 25,000 or so non-industrial forestland owners. But the non-industrial owners are sort of a buffer between the farmers, suburbanites, and the industrial owners.

The industrial owners welcomed zoning that limited the forest use of the nonindustrial owners. Goal 4 is very important. Oregon has good farmland but our forestland is the best in the world. The best forestland for saw timber that can be made into dimension lumber is on the coastal side of the coast range—Clatsop County, Columbia County, and some lands up in the coastal part of Washington and Southern British Columbia.

Now, that’s not the whole nine million acres of private forest land in Oregon. There’s a lot of it that’s average grade or lower, like in the Klamath Falls area where Weyerhaeuser owns a bunch, but we have very important forestlands that are highly productive and it’s important to keep those in forest use for the state’s ability to generate wood fiber.  

Jim Sitzman: There was kind of a thread that runs from Senate Bill 100 through the goals and the comprehensive plans for the whole program to be effective. What are some of the program elements and practices that have been useful in pulling that thread from the statute to the goals in the comp plan?

Henry Richmond: I think one of the most important things that happened was the shift from Senate Bill 10 to Senate Bill 100 and Goal 3 which said that if the State’s objective was to conserve the maximum amount of agricultural land, and to conserve it in “large blocks,” the agricultural land goal should be grounded in soil types that are understood by farmers, county extension agents, and realtors. And that the soil type information is mapped and it’s objective, it’s understandable, it’s visible, and it’s grounded in credible science. I think that is one of the most important strengths of the Oregon Land Use Program that’s allowed effective policy and implementation to occur from 1969 through the goal adoption and through the plan implementation process.

Jim Sitzman: That’s an interesting observation—how the soil inventory is an essential element in that continuity.

Henry Richmond: And every county has a soil survey and you can easily see: “Oh, this is farm? “Oh, you know, I’m sorry, it’s [class] 1 through 4 soil, and so is it outside of your urban growth boundary?” “Yes, it is.”

“Okay.” Zoned EFU—end of discussion. That takes the politics out of it.

Henry Richmond: The ability of 1000 Friends to accomplish what it’s done means that there were some really terrific staff people there. Bob Stacey and Dick Benner were the initial guys that filed all these appeals.

They had credibility with the Land Use Board of Appeals, the Court of Appeals, the county commissioners, and the newspaper editors. They knew what they were talking about and so 1000 Friends was able to preserve the law by identifying decisions made by counties and cities that we thought were wrong and that disregarded the intent of the legislature. And by representing people at no charge, we were able to build a body of precedent in the case law that protected the intent of the legislature and kept the law in place.

I think the second thing that 1000 Friends did that was important was to broaden the base of support of the program by getting the homebuilders on board that essentially eliminated the argument for local control.

1000 Friends also helped make the high tech industries see that something new was happening here for them. More fabrication plants were built in Washington County in the late 80’s and early 90’s than anywhere in the world. And the high tech industry gave a lot of credit to the land use system: your site was inside the urban growth boundary, it was zoned industrial, bingo, you’re home! I think that is an important contribution that 1000 Friends made. Local control has been a knife in the heart of the land use reform movement in many other states and it was a huge obstacle here but once the homebuilders and the high tech people got on board with the land use program, it’s just evaporated.

Work with Me People!

An interview with Mike Weatherby, recently retired mayor of Fairview, Oregon

Interviewers: Sheila Martin and Meg Merrick

Mayor Mike Weatherby was first sworn in as Mayor of Fairview on January 2, 2003. He was re-elected in November of 2006 and 2010. We sat down with him to discuss how the town and the region have changed over his twelve years in office and his hopes for the future, as his current term comes to a close. 

Sheila Martin: You’ve been mayor for twelve years, and you’re getting ready to step down. What are the most far-reaching changes that you’ve witnessed in Fairview?

Mayor Weatherby: When I first came into office, we were still experiencing some building and growth that had peaked in the nineties, but physical change has slowed down since then, especially with the recent economic downturn. Population has stayed pretty much the same. We’re nearly at build-out for residential construction, and we did have some commercial growth.

I think the biggest change is recent, and that is the Veterans Affairs East County Clinic that will be built soon. I think that the VA clinic is going to be a real catalyst. It is the anchor, because you’re going to have a lot of satellite businesses going in around there. It’s going to change the look of the Village from Halsey. The developer of the VA property is also working on other nearby properties. We’re making use of a state program called Vertical Housing that will add both residences and businesses.

Sheila Martin: What about the non-physical changes that you’ve observed in the region?

Mayor Weatherby: I’ve observed over the years that Fairview has become a leader. It sounds funny because Gresham is the big city out here, and just by their size, they influence this area the way Portland influences everything around it. But I think that we can have influence in other ways, because instead of just being parochial about our city, we can set the tone for the East County region.

Our cities are so close together; it just makes sense to collaborate. There are issues that we all are involved in that unite us. Transportation is one of the most important examples, including TriMet and roads. At 223rd and Glisan, the three cities converge. Each city has its own personality, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t function as a region. I started holding meetings with the other mayors—at least one four-city meeting and several three-city meetings, including Wood Village, Troutdale, and Fairview. This [group] has become a regional mayors’ organization. It has no formal membership and no official title, but it is mayors-only.

As happy as we may be with our cities, the future is advancing a day at a time. Although Metro sees the big picture of change, we take a more practical outlook in terms of the way things work. We need to be working together on the issues that concern all of us.

Sheila Martin: How have these changes affected the quality of life for the people who live here?

Mayor Weatherby: Our ability to work together as a region affects the quality of life, but it’s very subtle. For example, we are all interested in contributing ideas to the Halsey project, and each city would like to create something unique that establishes their identity. We’ve been talking about projects that attract cyclists, and things like having bicycle racks, but different colors [of bicycle racks] for different cities. The cities could install them at different places so people can get off and use facilities, have a cup of coffee, or go to a sandwich shop or other shops. This is the sort of thing that everyone is excited about.

Instead of every city doing their own thing, [I wanted to] sit everybody down and talk about the greater vision, the goal, a sense of direction, how we’re going to go about it[…]that was accomplished, and it’s just the start. It’s a process. A lot of accomplishments in politics sometimes are not very concrete, and that’s sometimes a difficult thing because you can’t just go home and point to something you built. It’s a change in the sense of direction over the years.

Sheila Martin: And are there any changes you’ve noticed that you think have gotten in the way of creating a better place here?

Mayor Weatherby: Well, I think that what hasn’t really worked out is the transportation. For example, when I was first mayor, I wanted to reinstate the Banfield Flyer. This was an express bus that started at the dog track and went all the way downtown, without stops. When they got Max going, they stopped [the Banfield Flyer]. I guess they thought it might pull some riders away, but I think they should start it again. It serves riders farther north, and it was a success. It has been a problem not having a bus north of Sandy, especially for workers at the Nacco materials-handling group facility off of 223rd, north of Sandy. Their employees have told the manager there that they want to have a bus, but TriMet says that, according to their computer simulations, it won’t work. They did try a bus to Blue Lake Park in the summer for a year or two. It didn’t work out, but at least they tried.

Sheila Martin: What’s your vision of Fairview’s future?

Mayor Weatherby: I think that the VA facility will stimulate a lot of other medical activity and facilities here. We are very close to completely built out for residential, except for a few areas on Sandy, so I think, population-wise, we’re close to being topped out. I doubt we will ever reach ten thousand residents. But commercial development and medical facilities probably will grow.

I’d like to see the lower-income residents of our community become more integrated into the rest of the community. We have about one-out-of-four people that are lower-income. We have one of the largest Home Forward housing facilities in Multnomah County here. And it really takes a lot of resources, and it’s difficult. We need to avoid thinking of lower-income people as different from ourselves. And I’ve tried to really make the whole community think about how to upgrade what we call “Old Town” and make the people who live there part of our community.

For instance, when I was first mayor, I called a meeting with Home Forward about the Fairview Oaks. It’s a large community—about a thousand people—and I said we need to work together and communicate. I wanted regular meetings instead of waiting until some emergency happens. So now we have quarterly meetings, and we work together to address the needs of the community and to be inclusive. We have developed the park and addressed security issues, and I think being more inclusive is the only way you can grow. 

Sheila Martin: What do you think needs to be done as you’re leaving office to make sure that vision moves forward?

Mayor Weatherby: The new mayor, Ted Tosterud, needs to continue to work on this vision of regional collaboration, and I think that will happen. I’m really pleased with that. We need to deal with the divisiveness that was in the city council and move forward. He has asked me to help him, to mentor and assist him, which I’m really happy to do.

Sheila Martin: What are the arguments that you make to the other leaders in the region in support of the case for regional collaboration?

Mayor Weatherby: Number one, we’re all small; we have more of a voice if we join together. Number two, we’re dealing with roads. The roads go through all three cities. We’re talking about business; we’re all so close together that you may have a business in your city, but the people who work there may live in our city…both the workers and the upper-level people. If we improve our city or you improve your city, if you bring certain things in, it affects the whole area out here, and we need better communication. To move forward for our cities, other than something that’s strictly minor and internal, it requires everybody working together.

For instance, with the state legislature, if you want a senator or your representative to do something…if you have all three cities signing on to something, all three mayors supporting it, it’s far better than just one. The same is true for the county commission or Metro.

Sheila Martin: What do you think is driving the local leaders to work together? Do you think they’re buying your argument?

Mayor Weatherby: Absolutely. One of my strengths is really working with people and listening to people, actively listening, and a willingness to accept things or change my mind if the argument makes sense.

Sheila Martin: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Mayor Weatherby: First is the agreement with Home Forward. Secondly, renaming 207th to Fairview Parkway—it puts the city’s name right on a freeway entrance. There were little things, like a new type of light we approved to develop consistency throughout the city.

Also, the creation of the mayor’s business roundtable was a biggie. What I was looking for was a tool for bringing people together; bringing the business people together with the city administration and me to talk about issues, particularly concerns or gripes. It was important for people to talk about these issues openly, instead of waiting for rumors to spread. We started the meetings by inviting just Fairview, because we had some real tensions and issues over things like permitting.

But then we opened it up to a larger group from other cities. We included businesses who wanted to work with Fairview, who have contracts or just want to be involved. So, it developed, and it grew for all businesses. We have elected people who sometimes show up. It’s open to them, and it has grown. They meet quarterly over lunch. People fix a sandwich and have something to drink. People want to come. It’s a good communication tool. We will typically take a particular business and highlight it. I’m proud that the other city council members like it and the new Mayor, Ted Tosterud, intends to continue it. I will continue to attend as a private citizen in the future.

A once future vision for Fairview on display in Mayor Weatherby’s office.

Sheila Martin: Are there some things that you wished you had been able to accomplish that you were not able to?

Mayor Weatherby: Well, I wish I had been able to bring in better transportation from TriMet. I think that was very disappointing.

One other thing I wish had happened that I wasn’t directly involved in was bringing the aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger, from Bremerton to Fairview as the largest floating museum in the country. That would have been a huge draw. It would have created economic development on the waterfront, and it would have really changed the dynamics of the East Side. It just didn’t work out. The nonprofit association that was raising money to bring it here was not able to raise enough money.

Sheila Martin: As you leave office, how do you plan to stay involved?

Mayor Weatherby: I’d like to get on the budget committee. I have heard from different people that they want to use me as a resource. I’d like to do that—be available for people, but unintrusive. Other than that, I’m kind of leaving things open to see what happens next.

Interview with PSU President Dr. Rahmat Shoureshi


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Dr. Morehead: Your career has taken you from Iran to Boston to Colorado, Michigan, and New York. What were your motivations for coming to Portland and PSU at this point in your career?

President Shoureshi: That PSU and Portland are so intertwined is really attractive, because when you’re an urban university that means this city becomes a live lab for your faculty and the students. It provides the opportunity so that the students not only understand the education in the classroom, they also have the ability to experiment locally on some of the issues and topics that they are learning.

The other reason is that, when you talk to people, everybody says this is a great place to move to. When I would ask why, there were basically three words: it’s innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial. I looked at PSU and I looked at what the place has, and it’s a university that has all of the ingredients to be really a model global urban university. And having those ingredients enables you to actually reach that goal. And that’s why, when I looked at those elements, I realized this is a place that I can make a difference and that’s why I decided to come. There are a number of other factors. You know that for three years in a row now it has been selected by US News & World Report as among the top ten most innovative universities.

The other is I have interacted with a number of the board of trustees. And I have seen the commitment and devotion that every member of the board has for this university. So they were another factor. Research is very important. And everywhere I have gone I try to make sure that faculty get more engaged in research and scholarship and creative work, because I truly believe that, in order to enhance the quality of education in the classroom, in the studio, in the lab, and in the exhibits, you’ve got to be up to date with what’s going on in your field. And so, when I see, for example, the Institute for Sustainable Solutions or the transportation centers and see how many faculty are engaged, that is exciting to me. I also believe in cross-disciplinary studies, both in terms of research as well as the educational, and I see a good number of examples of those here at PSU. So, again, I see the alignment between my interest and some of the key elements at PSU.

Dr. Morehead: You talked a little bit about PSU as an urban school. What is your view of PSU’s role in the metropolitan region?

President Shoureshi: I can divide it up into three categories. The first is providing transformational education for the citizens of that urban setting. And I talked in my convocation speech about how transformative is college education in everybody’s life. The demographics you typically see in an urban environment are not typical of what you may see in a small college town. This is where you see the most diverse group, the people who come from the two extremes of financial status. This is where you see the number of minorities. So what that does is provide an opportunity for that urban institution to impact a very diverse group of constituents. So that’s one element: providing education for a diverse group of students, some of whom are nontraditional. I look at this as part of the pride and opportunity for PSU.

The second category is the opportunity that an urban university has to really become partners and collaborate with local government. And we have a good number of examples of how successful this partnership has been. It helps that many of our graduates end up in those government positions. I call it a positive feedback loop that keeps strengthening itself very well.

The third and really very crucial element is the opportunity to build relationships with the business community, because, for those businesses to thrive, they need to have this constant flow of ideas and opportunity or what I call an intellectual pool that the university provides. It’s that urban institution that has the almost fiduciary responsibility to educate the type of students and graduates that have the right skills, and therefore the university will have a huge impact on the socioeconomics of the urban region. And many of the businesses will be dependent on that partnership. So these are the three key elements that I truly believe PSU has demonstrated and will continue playing a leading role in.

Dr. Morehead: PSU’s motto is “let knowledge serve the city.” And certainly that can mean the education of the population. What does that mean to you beyond that?

President Shoureshi: It means serving the city in terms of education and also bringing economic opportunity to the region.

Let me give you some examples. When I was at Wayne State back in 1981, the automotive industry was just at the beginning of bringing electronics and micro-control systems into vehicles. Ford Motor Company came to us and said that our engineers graduated when there were hardly any computers and we needed to reeducate them. We don’t want to lose them, at the same time we want to make sure they are more productive for the future of Ford. And so we put together what was truly a tailor-made master’s degree program for them. That was my first experience in putting together a cross-disciplinary degree program combining mechanical, electrical, and software engineering. And that was the beginning. After Ford, there was General Motors, there was Chrysler, and you can see how a university could impact the growth and productivity of the businesses in the region.

In Colorado, I had a similar experience when I started with Lockheed Martin. I asked them what type of engineers they would like to have five years and ten years from now. Listening to them and responding to their needs, to their future needs, made a huge difference. We had a master’s and PhD program for Lockheed Martin on mechatronics systems engineering and it was the first of such programs in the country. And so, that relationship blossomed. The next one was Northrup that came and said we’d like to see a similar arrangement. The university, besides having an educational component, can have a direct impact on the growth of industry and businesses.

And that’s what I see PSU really doing with both the local government as well as the state: growing future sectors of the economy for Portland and for Oregon.

Dr. Morehead: Despite our success in attracting a skilled workforce and the companies that want to employ them, our region faces many critical issues, including housing affordability, homelessness, racial achievement gap, and state and local government funding crisis. Which of the region’s important challenges are you looking forward to personally engaging in, and how will you approach that issue?

President Shoureshi: I truly believe, as an urban university, we need to address all of those. Homelessness is important to PSU, because number one, this is the population that, for whatever reason, may not have had opportunities. If there is anything we can do to help them, the least that as a university we can do is provide them the opportunity for education. So homelessness is important to us partly because we are so intertwined. I see on the streets of the PSU campus the same issues that the rest of the city is seeing—and the whole area of housing. Portland has not yet become as bad as New York, Boston, LA, San Diego, Austin or Boulder. So what it would take is to develop, especially through our certificate program in urban design, a long range plan that addresses urbanization not just in the central city— because, if you only focus it there, all you do is make real estate even more expensive—but also beyond. So that, on a larger scale, people would be interested in living there, not because it’s cheaper, but because you have designed it so that all of the amenities extend beyond the central city, including workforce development for the businesses and industry and other key elements.

Dr. Morehead: US News and World Report, as you mentioned, has ranked PSU among the top ten most innovative national universities in its Best Colleges 2017 rankings. How important do you think innovation is to a university?

President Shoureshi: Huge. Universities have two major roles. One is education and educating the next generation. The other role is creativity and innovation.

Let me give you some examples. When you think about how the Silicon Valley started, when you look at the North Carolina Triangle Park, when you look at the whole of businesses in Austin and La Jolla, Del Mar, San Diego, all those, they didn’t just come off because somebody thought, okay, let me go and I’ll start a business there. It was the universities that provided the base of these new and innovative ideas. It’s another key element of a university to continue innovations and creativity. That would set the tone for the faculty and for our students. Besides educating the next generation, the university can provide opportunities for, especially, businesses and industry, because they are all looking for innovative ideas. Now, if you are a major corporation, you can afford to do some of it internally. But many others, especially small businesses, depend on what the universities are doing, because universities are really centers of creativity for these small businesses. So that’s why innovation is a key element of a university. It is part of its mission.

Dr. Morehead: What do you think currently is the most innovative part of Portland State?

President Shoureshi: The integration of what we provide for our undergraduates between classroom education and community education. So, for me to know that some of our students actually go even to the prisons and try to provide all types of support systems for prisoners, I think about that. This is such an experience, an especially transforming experience for them to see that happening. I want to go back to what I said earlier, that one of the attractive features of PSU is its integration with the city and the community. It’s not just saying it, PSU is actually doing it by all of these projects.
A team of our students has designed housing for women. It isn’t just a part of a great education for them, but it’s also something that really has a positive benefit for the community.

So, I can see that this has been, and why it has been, selected as a key element of PSU’s success. This integration with the community brings education and experiential learning together.

Dr. Morehead: How can we continue to be innovative?

President Shoureshi: You’ve got to do two things. One is to really encourage and incentivize those innovators so that they see that we recognize their effort, and we want to make sure that they are successful. The other one is to really create an environment that nurtures innovation and creativity. Both of those go hand-in-hand and are important. One of the first things that I asked when I came is, I want to have a meeting with the top fifty most active faculty researchers of PSU, and this meeting is coming up. And it’s not just those who have brought in the highest dollar amounts of external grants, but also those who have really been active and effective. It could be artists or it could be those who are looking at water quality and air pollution. It’s a wide variety. The reason is for me, of course, to get to know them, but more importantly I want them to know that I care. It’s part of our future to make sure that they continue this whole area of creativity and innovation.

It’s important to me. I have seen the benefits of it myself and have been a researcher all through my academic life. I’m just trying to see if I could still continue it as a president or not. I was sending an email to my last graduate student, who is still in New York finishing at the end of this semester his thesis, to make sure that he’s having progress in that regard.

So I truly believe in the importance of being an active scholar. What I call the teacher/scholar model is the right model for faculty.

Dr. Morehead: Thank you very much for answering our questions.

Liza is a researcher and data analyst at the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies (IMS), at Portland State University.