Graphic By: Wes Boyd

The election of the 45th president reveals stark contrast between urban and rural Oregonians.

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Jane and Terry Clark rest their elbows on the weathered break room table at Clark Asphalt and ponder the Trump agenda. Out back, along the Umatilla River on the Umatilla Indian Reservation adjacent to Pendleton, huge crushing machines are pulverizing paving materials — materials the Clarks believe will be in high demand if the president-elect makes good on his infrastructure package promise.

As the only asphalt provider in Eastern Oregon, more roads and bridges translate into more contracts for Clark Asphalt.

“I’d say most business people out here are hopeful,” Jane Clark says, referring to the farmers and manufacturers and retailers who live and work in the Pendleton area. Adds Terry: “Everyone I talk to about it — we’re on the same page.”

In Eastern Oregon, that page looks like the promised infrastructure package, better prices for wheat if President Trump follows through with his “program” to protect U.S. wheat prices by clamping down on imports, and fewer regulations, something the Clarks devote untold hours and dollars to.

“We sure won’t have more regulations under Trump,” Terry says, a wry grin cracking his face.

“Yes, I’d say I’m hopeful, for the first time in some years,” Jane says.

In Southern Oregon, the mood in the local business community is equally upbeat. “I’d say the sky is blue, blue, blue,” says Lithia Motors Chairman of the Board Sid DeBoer. DeBoer, who built Lithia Motors into a $5-billion-plus public company, watched Lithia’s stock soar more than $15 a share between the election and the end of the year.

As a major public company, Lithia would stand to benefit handsomely from Trump’s proposed corporate income tax cut. Any reduction in fuel economy standards would also help the auto industry and, by extension, a mass sales operation like Lithia.

“Trump wants winners, and that’s good,” DeBoer says. “I’m not saying I agree with him on everything. But he is the first businessman we’ve had as president, and business generally is going to hugely benefit.”

But in Portland, the post-election mood among many business owners is, unsurprisingly, decidedly downbeat. The bottom line: Oregon’s geographical divide is stark, and startling.

Following Trump’s election, restaurateur John Gorham had little time to ponder any possible benefits of the change in Washington for his business and industry.

“I had to try to lift everyone’s spirits,” says Gorham, co-owner of the iconic venues Toro Bravo and Tasty & Sons. “I had to put out a reminder to the staff that we were still open for business and that it was our job to relieve our customers’ stress, not add to it.”

“There’s so much uncertainty,” he says, unable to think of an upside to Trump’s presidency. “What’s going to happen with taxes? Will my employees still have health insurance? There will be some immediate direct hits for people here. I’m really hoping for some silver lining in the clouds.”

On a larger scale, Portland’s global enterprises are clearly keeping an eye on Trump’s vow to clamp down on imports. That wouldn’t be a good thing for such companies as Nike and Columbia Sportswear, which operate offshore factories to make goods.

“Columbia Sportswear Company has a long history of, and remains committed to, supporting policies that promote free and fair global trade. Our industry is already subject to significant import tariffs,” Columbia President and CEO Tim Boyle said in an email to Oregon Business.

Trump’s policies are famously undefined and not always aligned with a traditional GOP agenda. As a result, Oregon business owners are gazing into an opaque crystal ball.

But in broad strokes, business leaders expect that health care, import/export, natural resources, infrastructure and manufacturing are the most likely to feel the effects of GOP dominance — as much as Trump himself.

“I’d say I’m hopeful, for the first time in some years.” — Jane Clark

If Trump’s yet to be unveiled infrastructure package passes Congress, Oregon would likely benefit from a focus on highways, bridges and related improvements. If Obama’s healthcare reform program is repealed, it could deprive thousands of Oregonians of health insurance and reduce medical provider revenue. If Trump pulls the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate action, the state’s renewable energy sector should brace for a hit.

Beneath this overriding sense of uncertainty, interviews with businesses around the state reveal another trending development.

Two months ago the Oregon Business Association and the Associated Oregon Industries announced a merger, part of a larger effort to unify the state’s business community. But simultaneously, there is a widening of the gap between rural and urban communities over Trump’s election.

If you want to know what Portland thinks of Donald Trump, you don’t have to go much further than any local watering hole where business owners and executives meet. To most of them, the sky is falling, Trump is the devil and they are expecting four to eight years of hell. An import/export war is particularly worrisome.

“Clearly, exporters, especially those whose markets include China, may feel the impact [of Trump trade restrictions]. Natural resource firms, for instance,” says Gerry Langeler, managing director of OVP Venture Partners.

“It will depend on how much of Trump’s rhetoric gets translated into actual policy. If he scraps the ‘one China’ policy, the impact could be substantial.”

But in places like Medford, Pendleton and Roseburg, you hear a very different story.

Business owners there are more likely to dismiss as “campaign rhetoric” the cheap shots and mysogynist/racist remarks that became a hallmark of Trump campaign. As they start to tease out the strands of the economic thoughts the real estate magnate has shared, many, like DeBoer, see a blue sky in their future.

The urban/rural divide in Oregon has never been sharper. For instance, in Portland, importers like Nike and Columbia Sportswear cringe at the prospect of a shifting import/export policy that would raise the price of the shoes they produce offshore. But to a wheat farmer in Milton-Freewater, protecting the price of domestic wheat is a game-changer — for the farmer, the asphalt maker and the rural communities that depend upon wheat sales to drive the rest of the local economy.

That widening gap greatly concerns Kendall Clawson. As the executive director of the American Leadership Forum of Oregon, it’s her job to bring rural and urban executives and officials together. The former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Kate Brown, Clawson facilitates dialogs between these two Oregon regions.

“People are having different experiences around similar issues,” she says.

“We want people to be in dialogue, not in conflict. There are different realities in Oregon. The economy is largely in the major city, and people in rural communities seem to have less value. That makes it hard to balance people’s ability to make money and maintain quality of life. I’m trying to be as hopeful as I can, but people are worried about this growing divide.”

Scott Kelly, executive vice president of Asante Health, Southern Oregon’s largest health care provider, believes that a good-for-business administration in Washington should lead to a healthier business climate in Southern Oregon that will boost Asante’s fortunes.

He thinks Trump can directly aid the medical profession by undoing some of the regulatory tangle that has accompanied the Obama administration’s healthcare reform.

“Trump will get rid of some bureaucracy that has not had anything to do with quality of care,” says Kelly, one of several business executives in Southern Oregon who convened an informal roundtable with Oregon Business to share thoughts on Trump’s effect on businesses. “I know he can’t fix everything. But without a vibrant business community, we don’t make it.”

Brad Hicks, president and CEO, Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, has this advice for local businesses: “Seize the opportunities as they come our way. We need to take an optimistic view of what’s ahead of us.”

Jessica Gomez, founder and owner of Rogue Valley Micro Devices; and Gomez, a Latina business owner, shrugs off Trump’s denigrating remarks about women and deporting undocumented workers as mere campaign rhetoric. She’s waiting for action, optimistic, focused on what his administration can do to help her make and sell microchips.

“The Trump administration will be a benefit for manufacturing companies,” she says. “When you start to look at the compounding effects of policies restrictive to business, it starts to get more difficult to compete, especially in the global marketplace. So I’m interested to see what policies get adjusted to help make manufacturing in the U.S. more successful.” 


Rural Oregonians aren’t uniformly thrilled about Trump’s election. Misgivings include Trump’s lack of details for his “policies,” his penchant for loose-cannon comments, and his history for treating small businesses poorly. Those in the agricultural sector, including in the wine industry, are anxious to see if Trump makes good on his vow to deport undocumented workers.

But for communities that believe they have been unfairly punished by environmental regulations, or have lived too long in the shadow of Portland, the change in Washington is refreshing. It raises the prospect, however fragile, of a return to greater timber harvests, to relaxed water use regulations, to a transportation network that connects their products to new markets.

“Timber is the big one” that could benefit from Trump’s administration, says Ryan Deckert, president, Oregon Business Association. “In general you’re going to see nothing but increased harvest levels, which would be good for our rural economies in general.”

Valerie Johnson, President of Roseburg-based DR Johnson, is hoping Deckert is correct. She says perhaps Trump will have the courage to stand up to “those bureaucrats” who have refused to allow natural resources practices “allowed by our current laws.”


Johnson says the stranglehold on Oregon timber harvesting puts the state at a serious disadvantage, robbing communities of jobs and endangering the forests through poor management.

“It’s time someone with some guts stood up for us,” she says. “Hopefully, Trump will.”

The new Republican dominance in Washington will definitely enhance the role of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“He is now positioned to get a signature on something out of his committee. His status will become much larger,” Deckert predicts.

That status alarms Portland business owners. Maurice Rahming worries that there may be a Trump-inspired backlash against small businesses, and minority owned enterprises in particular. The African American owner of O’Neill Electric has dealt with racism in the construction industry in the past. As the years passed, he began to believe considerable progress had been made.

Until Donald Trump came along.

“We’ve moved so far since the 1960s. We’ve seen historic changes in race relations. But this election shows us progressives that we are not as far as we thought we were,” he says. Minority-owned businesses are “seen as not capable, and now it’s okay to express that belief. We’ll have to work harder to secure our place in the economy.”

Khanh Le, state director for the Oregon chapter of the Main Street Alliance, says Oregon’s small business community shouldn’t expect any favors from a Trump-led government. “Based on his own history of mistreating his vendors, no one can convince me that he will be in any way supportive of small business,” Le says.

Le says many of his members employ undocumented workers, and they fear losing key employees to deportation. Their fears are probably unfounded. Although far apart on many Trump talking points, rural and urban sources alike agree that Trump’s vow to deport undocumented workers in large numbers will be impossible to follow through on.

A study by the nonprofit New American Economy estimates that Oregon is home to 114,000 undocumented workers employed mainly in “highly labor-intensive roles.” Among them: agriculture (28 percent are undocumented); hospitality and food services (13.3 percent); and administrative, support and waste management services (each with more than 10 percent). Most have assimilated into their communities, “making it less likely that mass deportation will ever be a realistic option,” the report says.

OBA’s Deckert thinks Trump will make a show of deporting illegal workers early in his term to placate his support base, and then will back off from a serious effort to identify and deport illegals. “It seems somewhat impractical,” he says. “The mechanics of it are really ugly. We would advocate strongly and hard against that.”

The rural/urban gap also disappears when the discussion turns to Oregon nascent legal cannabis industry. No one seriously believes Trump’s candidate for Attorney General, Jeffrey Sessions, will challenge state legalization measures. Pendleton voters recently passed legislation allowing retail sales of cannabis products within the city limits. Pendleton Mayor Phillip Houk is confident pot retailers will be able to move forward with their businesses.

“The Republicans are supposed to be the states-rights party,” Houk says. “Why would they waste their time trying to make it illegal where it’s been legalized?”

Portland business executive Renee Spears agrees. Spears, the owner of Rose City Mortgage who launched a pot accessories business last year, dismisses the notion. “After this last vote in Florida and California, there’s no turning it back,” she says. “They have other things to worry about.”

If there is a potential silver lining to Trump’s victory for Oregon, it is that it could force rural and urban Oregonians to confront their differences, to acknowledge their polarized agendas, and begin to find common ground, says the Leadership Forum’s Clawson.

“Because we have that urban/rural tension, this changing environment presents an opportunity for us to focus our energy on the kinds of things that bridge the gap,” she says.

A long shot? Perhaps. But then, so was Donald Trump.