Admit it: We're mediocre and don't
With a low work ethic and uncompetitive, adverse business attitudes, Portland's not
winning any prizes for innovation
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Finally, someone's spit out what no Oregonian will admit: We're an also-ran and we don't much
As Jeffrey Tryens packed his bags, leaving the Oregon Progress Board in the dust for a similar
job in Australia, the words spilled out. ("Missing the mark on lofty goals," July 31).
"We're not willing to be bold anymore," said Tryens, the former executive director. "Nobody talks
about vision. . . . It's just like we want to get through the day."
Oregon is an also-ran when comes to education, business competitiveness and leadership.
That's apparently what most Oregonians want. Oregonians bristle at strong leadership -- Portland
has rejected a strong-mayor system multiple times. And legislators, part-time and uncommitted to
change or even hard work, reflect their electorate.
Still, Oregon is a nice place to live, that's what continues to draw people. They consciously
choose the Oregon lifestyle. They're people, like me, who after helping set the world on fire in
places like New York and San Francisco, burn themselves out and seek balance in their lives. I
moved from the East Coast to live in Portland 14 years ago. I'm not sorry I did.
But let's be honest with ourselves: The policies and politics of Portland and Oregon are
purposefully constructed to reflect the desires of their residents -- low-energy, uncompetitive and
hard-work averse -- at least compared to other states and cities that drive the American economy.
That's why it's silly to set lofty goals and bother to compare ourselves to other places. It's
fruitless, frustrating and, frankly, dishonest.
Portland is one of America's top 25 markets, but only one Fortune 500 company is based here.
There's no major, high-quality university, unemployment consistently runs near the top of the
nation's worst states -- such as Mississippi and West Virginia -- and child abuse is among the
worst, likely because of minimal employment opportunities. Even so, we strive to protect our 19th-
century agrarian economic culture by prohibiting growth and development.
So let's just admit that economic, education and social mediocrity is what we want and quit
whining when we don't measure up. I don't want to hear about the next "New York-y" restaurant
opening in the Pearl. Oregon is not even a qualified "wannabe."
We are not NYC -- not anything like it. We work our eight hours (maybe) a day, abandon the city
on summer Friday afternoons, protect our greenspaces as if they were holy shrines, dig 'shrooms
from under cow plops, eat dinner early and abandon downtown by 10 p.m. For some reason we
fail to have a budget to put (or keep) criminals in jail, but we can open up skateboard parks all
over town. It's what we want.
Face it, Oregon, and shut up.
I chose this lifestyle because I was tired of working so hard. I wanted to watch my grandchildren
grow up because I missed my children's early years; I was working all the time.
So let's just admit to ourselves what the rest of the country and the nation's business community
already know: We're not competitive. We choose not to be. . . . It's the lifestyle, stupid.
Thanks, Jeff, for exposing us. Now maybe we can accept ourselves. I'm trying.