HOOD RIVER - Gov. John Kitzhaber sounded notes of optimism after a year in office, during a round table talk and speech to Hood River Rotary Thursday.
Leaders in local government, as well as agriculture, technology, manufacturing and tourism reported on works in progress and gave Kitzhaber a wide range of requests and ideas, during the governor's half-day visit to Hood River County.
"I am optimistic about Oregon's future," said Kitzhaber, speaking to packed house of 400 people at the Rotary meeting at Best Western Hood River Inn.
"With your help, we can weather this economic challenge, and we can do it without losing our sense of community, without losing our commitment to one another; and emerge stronger and more united than where we began," Kitzhaber said.
"We've changed the tone at the top, and our collaborative partnership with labor, business groups, chamber of commerce and the regional solutions advisory committee has been the key to our early successes," Kitzhaber said in his Rotary talk.
Also on Thursday, Kitzhaber cut the ribbon at the Port of Cascade Locks' new Herman Creek facility. With him were port officials and State Rep. Mark Johnson and State Sen. Chuck Thomsen of Hood River. Johnson and his staff organized the governor's visit.
Johnson said the governor got a look at the "economic tapestry" of Hood River, made up of "multi-dimensional, multifaceted businesses that rely on each other, support each other and create a great place to do business and raise our kids." Johnson spoke following the round table of agriculture, technology, manufacturing and tourism business leaders.
"As we continue in the depths of this frustrating recessive economy, and look for traction back to normalcy, the rest of Oregon has much to learn from Hood River County," Johnson went on to say.
The governor called for a revision to the Oregon Business plan that has as its main goal "creating and retaining economic activity and family wage jobs while reducing our carbon footprint and restoring our natural environment."
"Expanding the manufacturing sector to reduce reliance on imports, and minimizing export of raw materials and maximizing export of value-added (timber) precuts are two other keys," he said. Kitzhaber also said the Business Plan should minimize the need for imported energy and "keep capital circulating in our state through local sourcing and supply chains."
He added that "this economy has both an environmental restoration element and a resource conservation component" and should initially include at least six elements: upgrading energy-efficient upgrades to schools and all public buildings; adopting a 10-year energy plan emphasizing renewal energy and "efficiency opportunities"; supporting "emerging innovation" in Oregon's biomass industry; strategies to reduce export of raw logs and raw agricultural products while increasing the use of Oregon agricultural and wood products in Oregon"; and creating a "cluster" strategy -- connecting Oregon manufacturers and suppliers with each other.
"These steps are all key points in the Oregon Business Plan and we have been aggressively pursuing them with our partners in business and labor. But clearly, we still have a long way to go," Kitzhaber said.
Kitzhaber quoted Albert Einstein, who said, "You should not use an old map to explore a new world."
"Each new generation faces a new world with new challenges," Kitzhaber said. "These are challenges that cannot be met by clinging to the past but only by imagining a new world and a new set of tools with which to build it."
He called on Oregonians "to set a new chart, and sail into the future together."
"When I took office I vowed to focus on three priorities from day one of my administration. First, I wanted to ensure that the state would be an effective partner getting the private sector economy going again for big companies and small entrepreneurs alike - and to set the stage for breaking the boom-bust cycle that has plagued us for decades. Second, I wanted to transform our health care system to reduce the opportunity costs involved with spending an ever-growing portion of our resources on this one sector alone. Third, I wanted to transform our system of public education to create a skilled workforce capable of competing and excelling in the global economy of the 21st century.
"One year later, and a little grayer, I believe we have made significant progress," Kitzhaber said.
"And while too many Oregonians still remain out of work and facing uncertainty, we will emerge from this recession stronger and better positioned for the future.
"On the jobs front, we are making progress," said Kitzhaber, who had met earlier with local business and government leaders and heard about economic development projects, as well as requests for assistance on interests including immigration reform, protecting air quality and improving export markets.
"We ask that you really push for immigration reform," at the federal level, said Jean Godfrey, director of Columbia Gorge Growers Shippers, which represents orchardists and packing houses. Hood River agriculture constitutes 30 percent of the county's economy, Godfrey noted.
Citing a severe lack of orchard workers in 2011 and the resulting delays in getting fruit off the trees and into the packing houses, Godfrey said, "We ask that the state work with the federal government and ask that they not enact any immigration reform like they have in other states."
Kitzhaber's visit to Hood River was his first since he was elected in November 2010 to his third term. Kitzhaber, a Roseburg Democrat, also served as governor for two terms, 1992-2000, and was a state legislator before that.
On health care, Kitzhaber said, "With legislative leadership and the involvement of Oregonians in communities around the state, I believe that we have been very successful in catalyzing a new approach in health care.
"The passage of SB 99 (which established our state health care insurance exchange), and HB 3650 (which established a pathway to transform our health care delivery system for the 600,000 people on the Oregon Health Plan), has allowed us to take the first step to reduce cost and improve health outcomes for all Oregonians."
Kitzhaber's education advisor, Ben Cannon, toured Hood River schools on Thursday, meeting with Supt. Charlie Beck and other educators.
At Rotary, Kitzhaber said, "With help from local communities like Hood River, business leaders, strong leadership from the legislature, and from educators around the state we are also making progress on changes to our system of public education, which will deliver better results for students and more resources for teachers.
"With only two-thirds of Oregon students graduating from high school, I feel a tremendous sense of urgency at this effort. Indeed, our social, civic and economic objectives depend on meeting aggressive targets for all Oregon students to earn high school diplomas and at least 80 percent to earn an associate degree, a technical certificate, a baccalaureate degree or higher. With the passage of SB 909 and SB 242 we are, for the first time, aligning funding and governance across the full continuum of education from early childhood services through K-12 and post-secondary education and training to achieve these goals."