Conclusion: Attracting college-educated workers is not enough
In recent years, the trend in economic development has been more about place than policy. The feel and look of a metro area has been asserted to be at the center of what communities should be doing to attract the college-educated workers who will catalyze business and economic growth. And the Portland-metro area has been successful in creating a distinctive feel and look that has attracted new, college-educated residents from across the country.
The findings of this report suggest, however, that merely educating or attracting a supply of college-educated workers, while important, is not enough to maintain a robust economy in our region. The large gap between Portland-metro and its peers in the number of hours worked and the lower earning per hour show that there maybe a disconnect between the kind of college-educated workers we are producing and attracting and the available jobs and income levels.
We need to do more to retain and attract employers who offer the family-wage jobs that can support our workers. As a region, we need to be focusing on what makes a difference in growing an economy: A strong manufacturing industry supported by a domestic and international trade network; a reasonable tax structure and regulatory environment; a supply of market-ready land for development; and a trained and educated workforce.
A more robust economy supported by these elements is a strategy for growing higher-income jobs for all workers. And at a time when our city, county and state governments are cutting budgets for basic services, it is clear that our region needs a healthier economy to improve our quality of life.
As a business community, we will continue our efforts to move policy in the core areas listed above. And it is clear from these findings that our number one policy priority Ė education Ė needs to remain at the top of the list. We will continue our work to make education redesign in Oregon a reality, including achieving the goal of more Oregon residents with post-secondary degrees. These report findings show, however, that we must be deliberate about how we achieve that goal.
The intent of this report is not to disparage humanities degrees, because all college degrees are valuable and generally lead to higher incomes. But the $2.7 billion earnings gap for college graduates, clearly shows that increasing the number of workers with business, management and technical (STEM) degrees must be a central part of the education discussion if our long-term goal is to improve wages and incomes. We must also improve our regionís ability to translate creative endeavors into marketable products, to recruit and retain talented managers, and to support student exposure to business careers.
Finally, we must ensure that we are supporting a business environment that will foster the creation of quality jobs that will support our regionís workers and their families over a lifetime.