Senator Wyden Gives Speech at Oregon Business Summit

"Smarter federal policies can start busting up the gridlock for Oregonians"

Portland, Oregon - Today, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) spoke at the 9th Oregon Business Plan Leadership Summit held at the Oregon Convention Center. Below are excerpts from Senator Wyden’s remarks:

Pat, thank you for that unquestionably inflationary introduction.

And even bigger thanks to Duncan, Bill and the others who each year grants me the privilege of being part of this summit that we launched nine years ago.

And thanks to all of you for being here today. Many of you have been here in the past. For some it may be your first time. Either way, this is the place to be – the place where leaders from every corner of the state come together to shape Oregon’s economic future.

The gridlock in Washington, D.C., reminds me of a statement once made by a great political philosopher … Lily Tomlin.

Ms. Tomlin once said:  “We try to be cynical, but it is hard to keep up”.

But cynicism alone does not change much and I refuse to use my certificate of election to promote it even though you know things are tough when the Germans and the French are getting along better than the Democrats and the Republicans.

So, I’m going to spend a few minutes describing how smarter federal policies can start busting up the gridlock for Oregonians. Policies built around innovation. Policies that reinvent old models and tap into new markets to create real change and real jobs.

Let’s start with the granddaddy of government safety net programs – the unemployment system. It is a system that too often doesn’t work for the unemployed or for the taxpayer.

That’s because there are only two choices for those getting unemployment checks: Either look for jobs that no longer exist or go into training programs that don’t fit their skills or their work ethic.

I saw things differently. I convinced the Congress to allow some of those people to use their unemployment benefits to start a business. While not every unemployed American is a would-be-entrepreneur, it seemed to make sense to give a leg up to those who were.

And it worked. Two Oregonians – Adam Lowry and Michael Richardson – took advantage of this program to start a company called Urban Airship.

Today, just two years later, Urban Airship has seen revenue increase by 600 percent. It is now the darling of the angel investor community, attracting millions in strategic investment while becoming a leader in the global market for mobile applications.

Scott Kveton, president and CEO of Urban Airship, is here today. Scott, please stand up. Oregon - put your hands together and say hello to the face of innovation.

The success of Urban Airship shows that we are capable of growing inspiring entrepreneurs right here in Oregon. Let’s exploit that by taking advantage of another closely related opportunity.

I am working with more than 100 business, university, non-profit and local government leaders to bring a new Patent and Trademark Office to Oregon.

That may not sound like much. Another government agency locating another government office somewhere filled with yet more government employees? What’s the big deal about that?

Well, consider this:

  • Oregon inventors are among the nation's most prolific patent producers, winning more than 2,000 a year.
  • Oregon ranks eighth in the nation in terms of per capita patents.
  • By some calculations, Corvallis is the most innovative city in the United States, bar none.

With that kind of impressive record and the other considerations going into the Department of Commerce’s decision on where to locate a Patent and Trademark Office I believe Oregon is in the running.

Why? Because at the end of the day this is not about what the Patent Office can do for Oregon, it is what Oregon can do for America’s inventors.

Just yesterday, I talked to the Secretary of Commerce to make the case that we have the companies. We have the innovators. We have the work force. We have the space.

That makes Oregon a perfect place for Patent and Trademark Office and with the help of many of you in this room I’m going to do all I can to make it happen.

And while I’m on the subject of Washington, D.C., I learned late yesterday that folks in the aviation community and in Congress have come together on a plan that we think will ultimately lead to a direct flight from Portland to Washington, D.C. We still need to settle a couple other issues in the FAA bill, but this is a great step towards finally getting this done.

Now, if we are going to nurture those inventors like the folks at Urban Airship we better block legislation that will stifle innovation. The poster child of this anti-innovation movement is the ill-advised effort in Congress to censor the internet under the guise of fighting copyright infringement.

When we talk about Oregon entrepreneurs taking a risk the classic description is two guys in a garage with an idea and a dream of becoming the next Microsoft.

But if Congress passes this new copyright law that garage is going to need a second floor to house all the lawyers it will take to do nothing more than launch a web site. 

This is bad legislation, bad policy and bad for the economy. And if I have anything to say about – and I do – it will never become law.

We have to build on one other exciting dimension of the Urban Airship story.

One out of every seven Oregon jobs depends on exports.  Whether it is something sent in a box or downloaded from the Internet, they are still goods that find their way to Europe and, of course, Asia.

I have a message for the Chinese when it comes to these goods and more: Free trade doesn’t mean trade free from rules.

In fact, free trade depends on rules that oversee markets and when that happens Oregon wins and jobs are created.

Let me show what I’m talking about.

This is a can of Oregon Blueberries from Oregon Fruit Products. Because of the Korean Free Trade Agreement, South Koreans who want Oregon blueberries are now paying 45 percent less per can.

In other words, we just expanded a huge new market in Korea.

Now, I want to move on to acknowledge several other Oregon innovators and show how smarter federal policies can tap the potential of best practices and technology to create jobs in forestry and technology.

A year ago, I stood on this stage and said the Obama Administration rules on biomass were bad science,  bad for the future of clean energy and bad for job creation.

I said then I would use my chairmanship of the Forestry subcommittee to derail them so companies like John Shelks’ Ochoco Lumber in John Day could grow.

With the help of the entire Oregon Congressional delegation, those rules were kicked to the curb earlier this year. As of last week, more sensible rules for industrial boilers are coming out soon.

And with a bipartisan coalition in the Senate, we will block a misguided court decision that would subject our small landowners to mindless litigation seeking to unravel 30 years of federal policy under the Clean Water Act.

Most significantly, I believe the Senate will soon pass the timber payments legislation that I authored a decade ago.  Oregon is where God put the trees and I'm not going to let the federal government walk away from this critical program.

That is good news for our forests, good news for our timber industry and good news for job-starved rural Oregon.

The next stop on the Oregon Trail to more innovation and new jobs is energy storage. It is a field that venture capitalists are flocking to.

The missing piece of the renewable energy debate has always been how to store energy when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

This is not only important, it is imperative now that federal regulators have told BPA that it cannot pull the plug on wind farms when river levels are high.

Energy storage is a real solution, to a real problem that I would like to see energy leaders in the region get behind instead of hiring lawyers and going to court.

I am also part of a bipartisan effort to jump start the development of energy storage technology.

The legislation provides a 20 percent investment tax credit of up to $40 million for storage systems that are connected to the electric grid and a 30 percent investment tax credit of up to $1 million to businesses and homeowners for on-site storage projects.

It provides tax credits to businesses and homeowners who install energy storage on their own property to help serve their own energy needs efficiently or capture energy from on-site renewable energy generation.

Energy storage technology is the wave of the future. And I see no reason why that energy can’t be stored right here in Oregon. We have the land, we have the energy and we have the work force.

If we can store data for companies like Google, Facebook and apparently Apple, then we can store the energy needed to keep those data centers in operation and bring more of them to Oregon.

To achieve that end, I have asked Bonneville Power to push hard to get these storage technologies attached to their grid and to find new ways to pay for it.

A final area crying for innovation is federal agriculture policy.

It is a hide-bound system that strangles innovation and forces states into a one-size-fits-all food stamp program.

It is a system that requires school districts to buy food from a federal warehouse rather than from the farmer down the road.

This weekend I announced a series of agriculture policies to help Oregon farmers, to improve the food stamp program and to get more locally grown fruits and vegetables into our schools.

I believe these proposed changes will create more agriculture jobs and improve access of healthier foods.

They will let the states and schools decide how best to achieve good nutrition policy.

The USDA has the authority to grant waivers to states, but is extremely restrictive and has resulted in a number of innovative state proposals being denied.  

States should be allowed to innovate and find ways to increase access to healthy, locally grown food and achieve nutrition goals.

When it comes to the school lunch program, school officials have told me repeatedly that they are struggling with a lack of flexibility in the federal dollars they receive.

What that means is that the money Oregon schools receive through a program that USDA administers can only be used to buy from … guess who? .... the USDA. 

I believe schools need greater flexibility in how they spend federal money. Given that flexibility, I believe students will get healthier, locally grown food.

In wrapping up, I joked at the outset about partisanship in Washington, D.C. Now I want to be serious about how we can persuade candidates and elected officials to tackle the big issues in a bipartisan way.

The hurdle we face is obvious: Elected officials who go outside their political base pay a real price. The result is that is no longer clear when campaigns end and governing begins.

I happen to believe that political bases can be forces for injecting new ideas into the process. That’s what the Tea Party has done in demanding a curb on federal spending. That’s what the Occupy Wall Street movement has done in shining a light on gap between rich and poor.

But we go too far when those who seek compromise with the other side are branded as traitors. Look no further than the political destruction of  Utah Senator Bob Bennett. Senator Bennett was one of the most conservative members of Congress who was ousted by his own party because he worked across the aisle to solve big problems, including the treasonous act of helping me produce a health reform bill co-sponsored by 14 senators, half Republicans and half Democrats.

There is solution, however. First, urge candidates not to sign pledges and instead pledge to serve all the voters. Second, ask each candidate to give one example of a major issue they will pursue with someone from the other party.

With the right answers to those two questions we can break the deadlock in Washington, D.C.

Finally, let me leave with this. Our economy will get better. Businesses are hiring or they will be. When you do that hiring, please consider hiring a veteran.

They stood up for us. Here’s an opportunity to stand up for them.

Thank you and have a great summit.