The Initiatives That Turned Portland Around

In our discussions with Portland’s leaders, a few key interventions emerged that proved to be influential in the city’s revitalization and growth over the past few decades. Although some of the following examples may not be feasible in California given its legal and political setting, the intention is to provide some insight into the key levers that Portland used to strengthen its civic infrastructure and economic standing. Please note that we are not necessarily advocating for any of the following positions. Rather, we are offering these up as useful lessons-learned to provoke thought and dialogue.

Selection of Portland’s Key Initiatives

  • Connect economic prosperity with affordability: As one of its primary civic strategies, Portland has asserted that economic prosperity is not enough – citizens must also be able to afford and have access to adequate housing, transportation, and other components of a decent life to strengthen the symbiotic relationship between supplier & consumer; the diagram above represents the integrated strategies that comprise Portland’s new 2035 city plan – Thriving Educated Youth, Healthy Connected City, and Economic Prosperity & Affordability
  • Absentee-only ballot system: Portland’s absentee-only ballot system & public voting record have significantly increased voter turnout levels to over 70% in recent elections; by comparison, Fresno County’s voter turnout for the June 5 election was 27%
  • Public/private neighborhood partnerships: Portland’s Pearl District has enjoyed an impressive revitalization since it’s days as an industrial center, in large part due to public/private partnerships that have created significantly more available jobs and affordable housing units than what would otherwise have been created by market-forces alone
  • Recruit international companies: Portland’s economic strategy emphasizes the recruitment of North-American headquarters for international companies; Portland does not tax out-of-city exports, which helps to entice large international companies (including Adidas & Vestas Wind Systems)
  • Focus on small businesses: About 90% of employed Portlanders work for companies with 10 or fewer employees; the city of Portland focuses on helping these small businesses learn how to scale and export their goods outside of the city
  • Tracking minority small businesses & government contracts: The city tracks & measures the success of minority small businesses, while asking political candidates to report government contracts on a quarterly basis to ensure a fair distribution of contract work to minority populations
  • Agriculture innovations: Oregon State University has partnered with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to create a Food Innovation Center, which works with food and agricultural enterprises, farmers and small business owners to develop and take new local food products to market
  • Sanctuary state: Oregon is a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants, allowing them to earn drivers licenses, which has led to higher levels of civic engagement and better economic opportunities for many immigrants; according to a 2010 Pew Hispanic Center report, 9.3% of California’s workforce is undocumented
  • Education collective impact: Portland embraced a permanent Strive-like collective impact initiative called All Hands Raised, which has thus far been wildly successful in improving key education metrics by bringing together local business, government, non-profit organizations, faith community, parents, students and community stakeholders to ensure the sustained success of every child from cradle to career; the diagram below outlines their path from isolation to collective impact

All Hands Raised - Moving from isolation to collective impact

  • Police Service Coordination Team: The city of Portland also embraced a cross-sector initiative called the Portland Police Bureau Service Coordination Team, which reduces the incidence of crime by offering an assortment of services as an alternative to cycling habitual offenders through the criminal justice system; by providing housing, treatment readiness classes, counseling, mental health support, job training, and more, they have realized cost savings of over $45 million and reduced recidivism rates of program graduates by 91%
  • Career & college visits: City Club of Portland argued that career and college visits for at-risk youth were the city’s highest return-on-investment education interventions
  • Community feedback: The Mayor’s office mails surveys to every household 2-3 times per year asking for feedback and guidance on their community priorities

by David Ehrlichman, Systems Director of the New Leadership Network, with contributions by Heather McLeod Grant and David Sawyer

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