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Oregon Democrats talk jobs, economy in Sunriver

By Kandra Kent
Published On: Dec 24 2013 09:07:44 AM CST
Updated On: Oct 06 2013 11:58:04 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent talks Oregon's economy, jobs and the future of higher education with state's top leaders.

SUNRIVER, Ore. -

Oregon Democrats wrapped up a three-day conference Sunday in Sunriver with a workshop on jobs and the future of the state's economy.

Lawmakers, economists and  businesses came together highlighting Oregon's shortcomings and accomplishments at a biennial party gathering called the Oregon Summit.

"A several hundred million dollar machine sits up the street in Prineville," said ECONorthwest Senior Economist Bryce Ward, speaking of the Facebook data center. "They're really productive machines, and it's great that they are here. But they don't translate into lots of jobs, and they don't translate into widespread income."

Ward said Oregon is recovering well in productivity -- well ahead of many states. However, he also said the state is still struggling to provide job and income growth, especially to recent college graduates.

"They work less in Oregon, and they earn less than they do in other places," Ward said.

The economist also said the economic outlook in the state's rural areas is more bleak than the metropolitan areas like Portland.

"Out here in Central Oregon, Southern Oregon and Eugene, the recovery is still nascent," Ward said.

Meanwhile, Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler said in brief remarks that the key to a brighter economy is giving workers the skills for evolving industries.

"About 70 percent of the jobs in this country will depend on advanced educational backgrounds," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the rising cost of education, coupled with an explosion of student debt, discourages many of middle-class and low-income Oregonians from going to school.

"Oregon is headed in the wrong direction," he said.  "For every five students that qualify for student aid, four walk away with nothing."

Wheeler said his department worked with lawmakers to turn OSU-Cascades into a four-year university. He said that's just the first step to providing more opportunities.

Now he's pushing a plan to provide more aid for students. It's called the Opportunity Initiative -- a program to borrow money through bonds and create a permanent endowment funding student aid.

Such aid, he says, will allow more workers here to earn high wages.

Wheeler said voters will have the opportunity to vote on the Opportunity Initiative in the November 2014 election.

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