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By Bernie Foster, Publisher
Published: 26 January 2011

Portland Development Commission is looking for a new executive director, to replace Bruce Warner, retiring after 5 years at the helm. This Friday, Jan 28, you can let the commission know what kind of leader you want to see there, at a meeting from 1 -2 pm at the Portland Development Commission, 222 NW Fifth Ave. It matters. Here's why.

Warner recently told OPB that he was most proud of his legacy of repairing relationships with minority communities and with residents of N/NE Portland. We agree.

Bruce got off to a rocky start at Portland's crucial development agency. He arrived from Oregon Department of Transportation, an agency with an abysmal track record of fairness to minority communities. We knew he had experience managing $2 billion in funding and 4,600 workers. We did not know if he had the wisdom to use PDC's $275 million budget to develop projects for our communities. As it turned out, he became an exceptional leader who made a commitment, backed by the Mayor and City Council, to fairness and justice in economic development. Equity is the non-negotiable foundation of any sustainability policy.

During the last few years, we have seen real progress in Portland. The North/Northeast development initiative is targeting development dollars to existing residents and businesses in the Interstate and Convention center urban renewal areas. At the Killingsworth Station project, for example, 25 percent of the construction dollars are going to minority firms and workers.

More than 20 percent of the workers on PDC construction projects are now people of color. On the South Waterfront project, 47 percent of the apprentices were minorities and women, far surpassing the goal of 20 percent, and 35 percent of the workforce qualified as minorities, women and emerging small businesses (MWESB).

The Portland Plan notes that about 13 percent of the city's jobs, 51,000 of them, are located in commercial corridors in neighborhoods. So it makes sense to help local small businesses grow because they create more job opportunities. And, after years of discrimination, it is vital to open up well-paid jobs and opportunities in the construction industry to people of color. That's the key to benefiting our communities.

In the past, none of these areas had received this critical financial support.

PDC has built partnerships with minority contractors, providing technical assistance and helping them grow their capacity. PDC is funding vital projects in Gateway and Lents as well as in North and Northeast Portland – projects like Bradley Angle's Healing Roots Center, which helps African American victims of domestic violence; the June Key Delta sorority facility in North Portland; and the rebuilding of the Billy Webb Elks Club. It takes a lot more work to carry out these small, incremental projects, but they make a big difference.

PDC staff members, such as John Jackley who is the face of the agency for many of these projects, have shown the vision, the desire and the ability to work with our community, and to get the resources out of the door.

Much more needs to be done. And opportunities are underway, in the shape of the Rose Quarter development and the OHSU Sustainability Center.

PDC's executive director must bring the connections, the skills and the commitment to working in partnership with Portland's minority and urban communities to bring grassroots economic growth to our city.

Many candidates have vision and ability; it's what they will they do with them that counts. Our concern is that any external candidate will need up to two years to get a feel for Portland's big picture.

As the search committee looks for candidates with the potential to take Portland's development to the next level, we urge them to take a long, hard look at leaders within the agency. Inside candidates don't generate the excitement of the new and unknown, but they should have a track record and partnerships with Portland's communities of color. When it comes to creating development that supports our communities, this has to be the top priority.

Whoever is appointed as the PDC's new executive director should aggressively pursue fair, just, sustainable development policies. They must come to the job with strong relationships with communities of color and a track record that inspires our trust. Make your voice heard by attending the meeting. What Do You Think?

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