On the Scene: Greater Portland Inc. economic summit

Caleb Diehl
CEO of UI Labs Caralynn Nowinski Collens delivers her keynote address

Public and private sector leaders convened at the Portland Art Museum this morning for Greater Portland Inc. annual economic summit.

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The tone was celebratory and aspirational, fueled by a chorus of praise for “innovation.”

The event opened with a lighthearted video depicting Greater Portland Inc. president & CEO Janet LaBar as an Uber-style driver, picking up and hobnobbing with Portland elites in an electric car to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

Speakers talked up wearable technology, micro housing, holographic automotive manufacturing and other futurist designs they hope will drive regional growth.

Here are some highlights from the event:

CEO address: LaBar offered an optimistic “state of the region” address. Among the trends she identified: few major companies are relocating to Portland. Instead, existing firms continue to provide most job opportunities. Mergers and acquisitions are the new norm, and exports drive growth.

One challenge for Portland, LaBar noted, is income inequality. Incomes vary by race and ethnicity, with incomes for black households languishing below the national average. 

Keynote speaker Caralynn Nowinski Collens, CEO of UI (University + Industry) Labs, called digital manufacturing the “fourth industrial revolution.”

Collens started UI Labs to bring together universities, community groups, government and private sector companies. She drew upon her experience collaborating with these stakeholders in Chicago to demonstrate how cities can benefit from the digital revolution.  

“Many people still think of manufacturing as the 4Ds: dirty, dark, dangerous, and dull.” Collens says. “That’s no longer the case.”

Metro areas that want to become leaders in digital manufacturing, Collens says, must connect to startups and venture capitalists. Also critical are test sites that unite university talent with big companies and technology.

One such site will soon come to fruition in Oregon. The Scappoose-based Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center is scheduled to launch in Fall 2019.

The center will unite university research from Portland State University, Oregon State University, and Oregon Tech with industry partners, including Boeing and Daimler Trucks North America, to train a new manufacturing workforce.


A panel discussion brought together economic development leaders from Seattle, Minneapolis, and Portland to draw comparisons between the three regions.

Marty Loesch of Challenge Seattle, a local economic development agency, likened Seattle to a teenager, “dynamic, maturing, and conflicted.”

Forty percent of jobs, he says, come from four companies: Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and the University of Washington. Their dominance creates some anxiety — should one of those powerhouses was to leave or go under.

LaBar described Portland in three words: “creative, lifestyle, connected.”

“We’ll know we’ve been successful in ten years when new companies have places to go here and workforces,” LaBar said, “and wealth is shared by everybody.”  

Attendee Bobby Lee, director of economic development at Prosper Portland, the city’s urban renewal agency, said the challenge going forward is making sure the knowledge-based economy is inclusive. “I think that’s really the high-centered question that all of us need to think about,” he said.


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