From the editor: Ten business stories to watch in 2018

Here’s my take on ten Oregon business stories to watch in 2018.

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1. The big disconnect: Income inequality and the soaring stock market. The stock market continues its record-breaking run, enriching bank accounts and minting multimillionaires. Those who don’t have money stashed away in mutual funds aren’t sharing the bounty. The implications of the wealth gap will continue to reverberate in our schools, businesses and communities.

2. Federal tax law and small business.  Oregon is a small business state, and the new 20% deduction for pass through businesses (sole proprietorships and partnerships) could have an outsize economic impact here. 

3. Renewable energy uncertainty. Oregon Democrats are expected to push for carbon pricing this session, even as legacy businesses rejoice in a regulation-lite Trump environment.  How will the state reconcile opposing factions to lead the country on environmental business issues?  Will the dynamic new leader of the beleaguered Department of Energy help reinvigorate Oregon’s renewable energy and climate change policy?

4. Oregon business groups — regroup. Speaking of reconciliation: Will the Oregon Businesss and Industry association make good on its promise to unify the state’s fractured business community?  Or will upstarts like Business for a Better Portland continue to expose divisions in the private sector lobbying effort?

5. Not for sale. Years ago I wrote an article titled The Sellout State, about Oregon’s penchant for incubating innovation, then selling the innovation (Stumptown Coffee, YoCream, Tazo Tea) to out-of-state players.  It’s a model that worked for a self-styled ‘small is beautiful’ state.  But Oregon is no longer small, and we may not be able to sustain an economy on incubation alone. How can we keep the fruits of innovation here?  Consider, for example, the fate of cross laminated timber: We are pioneering the technology in the U.S. But will it stay or will it go?

6. Second and third tier cities shine. Portland is still a nationwide draw, and Bend gets all the attention in Central Oregon. But as housing prices soar in both cities, behind the scenes actors like Madras, The Dalles and others are coming out of the woodwork. Oregon’s smallest rural towns, however, will continue to struggle.

7. Inclusionary zoning:  unexpected consequences.  Developers warned Portland of a drop off in housing starts if inclusionary zoning mandates went into effect.  Will the new law trigger a housing boom in the suburbs? Will Beaverton and Hillsboro continue to pick up street cred as the most diverse regions in the Portland metro area?

8. Tech town mea culpa. The tech industry has reshaped San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Not everyone is happy about that. Look for a new generation of maturing software companies to play a bigger role in Oregon philanthropy, diversity efforts and community development. 

9.  Health care costs.  The health care tax vote at the end of this month is expected to be the first of many battles this year over how to pay for care. The high cost of medical services will continue to shake up the industry, as well as small businesses and individuals struggling to pay for health insurance.

10. Oregon’s budget crisis: PERS. Tax reform.
Enough said.

Update 1/3:  Not to channel “This is Spinal Tap” and go all the way to 11, but I meant to fit the following story into the list I compiled yesterday.  So here goes:

11.  The year of the plumber.  We heard no end of stories about businesses adapting to change in 2017.  One exception are the home services operations — plumbers, roofers, electricians —  the unsung businesses that keep all our lives humming.  TaskRabbit and other sharing economy companies are altering the way we utilize these services, but I expect in 2018 to hear more from the service people themselves. Part of the populist wave, as well as growing interest in hands-on, blue collar professions that pay a decent wage.