December 09, 2002

Opening Remarks of U.S. Senator Ron Wyden at the Oregon Leadership Summit

"For the next seven hours, you are going to be part of something that has never been attempted before in the state of Oregon.Today we have gathered together - business, elected, and community leaders, Republicans and Democrats from all 36 counties -- to create a public-private momentum for a comprehensive, statewide economic strategy. The faces of Oregon's unemployed have affected us all. The voices of seniors and parents who are anxious about today -- and our children's tomorrow -- are heard in every corner of our state. The good news is that Oregon will eventually come out of this recession, with or without our help. But the nation and our state will face future recessions as surely as one season follows the next. And many Oregonians currently lack confidence that between the present recession and the next one, Oregon will have put itself in a position to enjoy the nation's next economic upswing. What is our mission here today? We are here as Oregon's leaders to do everything within our power to bring this state's recession to a speedy close. We are here as Oregon's leaders to give the people of our state confidence that Oregon will weather the next economic deluge better than it has weathered this one. We are here as Oregon's leaders to ensure that Oregon is poised to take advantage when the nation's economy heats up once again. Where some in our state read the daily headlines and can only see the winter's darkness, we Oregon leaders are gathered here today because we can envision the light of a new Oregon spring: " a springtime for the birth of new, knowledge-based industries; " a springtime of economic renewal for core Oregon industries like agriculture, natural resources, technology, and manufacturing; " a springtime of nurturing Oregon's next generation in our schools and institutions of higher learning. Not one of us here today is deluded into thinking that spring is just around the corner. Our new Governor and the new legislature inherit daunting budget challenges that would test the will and capacity of any government. But we are all here because we understand that - by working hard, working smart, and working together -- we CAN do something about the darkness of Oregon's economic winter, we can emerge into the light. As you know, a group of Oregon business leaders led by Dick Reiten has been working to develop an economic development agenda for the better part of a year. Their efforts have reached across the urban-rural divide, and across the spectrum of Oregon's diverse business communities. I see in their work and in the effort that is beginning today, the potential to unify the state like never before. We scheduled this summit to occur shortly after the election so that we could engage our new Governor and new legislative leaders in these important discussions. Look -- you all know that the nature of political campaigns these days is that they simply never end. Politicians go to bed after the election on the first Tuesday night in November, wake up on Wednesday, and start raising money and plotting the next campaign by Wednesday afternoon. We in Oregon have just gone through a tumultuous series of legislative sessions and a narrowly divided election. The people of our state are justifiably worried about their future, and no election campaign and no ideology justifies prolonging the uncertainty that clouds our state today. You may not have supported our Governor-elect, or you may have hoped for a Democratic-controlled legislature, but now you owe it to the people of Oregon to let the campaign end, and help the folks who did win, to succeed. I'll let you in on a little secret about Senator Smith and me. We don't agree on everything. But we have learned to disagree as friends. We have learned that we each have to give a little, if we hope to effectively do our jobs for Oregon. And, we don't view success as a zero-sum game. As Senator Smith and I have done in the U.S. Senate, today I challenge Oregon's elected officials to leave their politics at the threshold when it comes to working toward a brighter future for Oregon's economy. I was very proud of Ted, his very worthy opponent, Kevin Mannix, and our Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, for setting aside their differences in the heat of the campaign and joining Gordon and myself in this summit effort. We will need much more of this sort of bipartisanship to break out if we are going to succeed in our efforts. Today we will be hearing from some of Oregon's brightest minds on a variety of topics critical to Oregon's economic survival. Also, we will have an open session to hear ideas that may not be discussed in the breakout sessions. In addition, Senator Smith and I have senior staff in Room B-119 all day long to listen to any ideas you may have -- ideas that may be unique to your area, or just plain unique. Everyone's ideas will go into a report that Senator Smith, Governor-elect Kulongoski, and I will review. In my opinion, one of the keys to finding the right pathways to renewed economic growth in our state, is that Oregon must find its own way. We cannot simply copy the paths taken by other regions and hope to share in their success. There are a number of fresh, creative business developments percolating across our state today that might serve as models for our thinking: In Klamath Falls, community leaders are creating a geo-heat, agricultural park to boost value-added products that bear the Klamath brand. Along the Willamette Valley, 11 high-tech companies have come together to form their own brand of Oregon-based cyber-security products -- products to protect wired technology here and abroad - in an enterprise they call Oregon RAINS. In Jackson County, Southern Oregon University is working to create a program to train the next generation of students in cyber-security. And right here in Portland, OHSU, the city, and visionary private interests, are working to transform a run-down industrial area into a hub of commerce, industry and learning. From biotechnology and health-related enterprise, to a PSU law enforcement training college for responding to modern-day threats, Mayor Katz and others are working creatively to prepare for this city's future. While we have some of the best minds in Oregon presenting white papers on key economic issues, I encourage you to lend your own ideas to this effort. I plan to put two ideas forward of my own that might help establish an Oregon niche that will help us compete and win. First, I will encourage Oregon universities and economic development agencies to work with me and the rest of the Oregon congressional delegation to establish Oregon as a leader in nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the science -- and soon to be the business -- of increasing the capacity of our technology while reducing its size to the molecular level. I have led Federal efforts to support research in this burgeoning field, and one or two regions in the U.S. will someday emerge as the leaders. Why not Oregon? Second, I agree with others here today that Oregon should produce a top-flight engineering program, capable of attracting the best talent, and keeping the best talent, right here in Oregon. Yet to do this, we must compete against top notch engineering programs across the nation. Nationally, only 10 % of engineers are women, only 6% of engineering students are currently women, and women make up a small fraction of engineering faculty. Why can't Oregon have the first engineering program to achieve significant gender parity in engineering? By making this both a goal and a marketing tool, Oregon can more quickly establish its own niche in this competitive field. No one person, elected official, or organization has a lock on all of the good ideas. The point here is that we must find our own way, and not simply assume we can follow well-worn paths for economic development. We need you to lend your ideas and your voices to Oregon's cause. Words cannot adequately express how proud I am . . . that when the call went out for leaders from Oregon businesses, communities, and government, to chart a course for Oregon's economic future . . . 1300 of you answered the call. If I harbored any doubts before, I now know: Oregon has the leadership to get the job done. We are 1300 strong. There's a lot of candle power in this convention center today. Together, we can help lead the state we love . . . to a brighter tomorrow. One final note from me for this morning: My colleague, Senator Smith, has asked me to express his sincere regrets that he is unable to be with us today. He had planned to be with us, but found that he was unable to cancel or reschedule previous commitments. We talked in detail last week about the summit, and about our joint Congressional agenda which we will be announcing early next year. As is our habit, Oregon's Senate delegation will also be the only one in the nation that will travel its state together holding joint town meetings. Senator Smith is represented here today by Kerry Tymchuk, his very able State Director, and by several other staff members. I encourage you to share with them your ideas and concerns. I know Senator Smith will work very hard to further these efforts here today, and please join with me in thanking him for all he does for Oregon."