Sen. Jeff Merkley gave the keynote speech at the East Portland Neighborhood Economic Development Summit 2012. Organized by the Portland Development Commission, and held at the Immigrant and Refugee Coalition of Oregon, the conference brought together business owners, financial specialists and community activists to learn about lending and development opportunities.
A longtime resident of East Portland, Merkley told some of the history of the neighborhoods east of 82nd Avenue and described the challenges faced by low-income families.
In the summer, for example, more than 50 sports and recreation programs were available for students, but not everyone could afford those fees, he said. "What happens to the families – to the single parents—who can't afford those fees? We need to think about –especially in this age where parents are working late, where obesity is a problem and causes lifelong health problems– we need to think about making sure all kids can participate in all activities."
Merkley praised the groups in East Portland who are stepping forward to take on these challenges, as well as helping bring development that supports the community.
"Whatever the issue is, individuals and groups are taking it on," he said. "One group worked really hard to make sure girls had dresses for prom—and that builds their self –esteem. Whatever the issue is, you are taking it on. And working together you have created a voice for East Portland."
Advocacy from East Portland neighbors encouraged the Portland Development Commission to create its new Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative, Merkley said. Six areas in East Portland will have funding for small business and community projects, designed to support growth without driving residents out of their neighborhoods.
That's tremendous," he said. "And I love the emphasis on communities of color. I love the emphasis on low-income families and underserved areas."
At the summit, panels showcased successful businesses and the work of small lenders, such as Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon, Craft3 and Unitas Credit Union. Each one has helped small business owners find financial support to expand -- often providing matching loans that double an investment.
PDC executive director, Patrick Quinton explained how the Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative is designed to help improve business districts without gentrifying existing residents out of neighborhoods.
"Because local business associations manage these districts, the work in each district reflects community priorities and strengthens communities from within," Quinton said.
"The PDC created the small business development program, which has invested more than $600,000 in community organizations like the Asian American Pacific Chamber, which in turn has provided more than 3,000 hours of technical assistance to small businesses."
Nick Sauvie of Rose Community Development talked about the challenge of housing families and pointed to signs of hope. East Portland was adding jobs throughout the recession, he said, even as other parts of Portland were losing jobs.
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