I recently received an email from Pat Reiten, Chair of Oregon Business Plan Steering Committee, saying that they “have launched a new website that describes some of Oregon key challenges and a framework for addressing them.”
They have. I’ve gone to the website, viewed Reiten’s video introduction and request for input, viewed economist John Tapogna’s longer video presentation on “Breaking Out of a Circle of Scarcity,” and have scanned the proposals included in their ten initiatives. Good stuff, but they do need input. Their vision is incomplete. There are no international dimensions to their initiatives. This flaw will have serious consequences for Oregon’s future.
President Obama, in calling for a doubling of US exports over the next four years, recently said “This is where America’s jobs will be tomorrow. Ninety five percent of the world’s customers and fastest growing markets are beyond our borders.” Obama’s view is not reflected in the Oregon Business Plan’s initiatives.
Let me suggest that innovative products produced by traded-sector clusters, the Oregon Business Plan's economic growth model, are not just going to sell themselves to the rest of the world. It will take advertising and sales people skilled and knowledgeable of foreign markets. Beyond that, Oregon is unlikely even to develop innovative products for foreign markets unless its workforce becomes much more sophisticated about those markets.
Parts of the solution to giving more Oregonians those needed skills, not mentioned in any of the Oregon Business Plan initiatives, are some simple, low cost changes in Oregon’s educational system, changes which are all affordable even in these budget stressed times. More foreign language immersion programs, especially in the languages of emerging markets like China, do not require more funding but shifting from monolingual English teachers to bilingual teachers. Paying for high school students to spend a year studying abroad soaking up the languages and cultures of foreign market requires no additional funding but simply permitting funding to follow the student from paying for classrooms here to paying for study abroad organization fees to go abroad.
Developing foreign languages programs has not been on the business community’s agenda. For examples, there were bills to expand Mandarin programs before the 2007 and 2009 legislative session. I recall no support for the bills from any business organization in either session. In the 2009 session, there was a bill to create a Go Global High School Study Abroad Program to encourage and authorize local school districts to pay for high school study abroad programs. Again, no business community support. Portland Public School for several years has had excess demand for its kindergarten slots in the Japanese and Mandarin immersion programs. There was a proposal before the PPS budget committee recently to add a class to each program for next year. Again, no business community support. Portland Public Schools also recently had a proposal before its budget committee to fund a pilot high school study abroad program (10 students each to China, Japan, and Mexico). Again, no business community support. The West Linn – Wilsonville School Board recently cut its one year old Spanish immersion program (perhaps thinking it would save money. It won’t). Again, no business community support for continuing the program.
There is a sad pattern of neglect by the business community of the need to give Oregon graduates a new set of foreign language skills for the 21st century global economy. This needs to change. Such neglect will have serious consequences. Perhaps, with just a few needed changes to their draft initiatives, the Oregon Business Plan could put Oregon on the economic path they seek, one “defined by thriving businesses that lead their industries in ideas, innovation and design, market reach, and staying power.” I hope so!
The Oregon Business Plan website is here.