The newly appointed chair of the Greater Portland Economic Development District says equity will be the primary focus of our region’s 5-year strategic plan.
In December, The Greater Portland Economic Development District (GPEDD) approved Jan Mason, President of Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon and director of communications and equitable development at Portland design firm Mackenzie Inc. as its board director.
Staffed by Greater Portland Inc and funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the GPEDD is tasked with finding and developing projects which align with the EDA’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). The strategy identifies Greater Portland as an economic development district, which qualifies projects that align with the CEDS’s mission to receive funding from the department of commerce.
As board chair, Mason will oversee the Greater Portland Economic Development District and partner with the EDA to fund projects which meet the federal criteria and will foster the growth and competitiveness of the greater Portland area and Southwest Washington.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Your board will be responsible for bringing federal funds to greater Portland-area projects. How has your previous experience prepared you for your role as board chair?
The Philippine American Chamber is a 27-year-old, culturally-specific chamber of commerce. It has been focused on helping the Asian and Pacific Islander community and lifting their voice in various ways. During that pandemic, a number of programs were put in place to provide technical assistance for small businesses, and so we were there helping the community to navigate through three years of the pandemic, the PPP process, and ARPA dollars that were there to assist companies during the pandemic.
In my career at Mackenzie, I work internally with a diversity, equity and inclusion team. I also work externally on projects with agencies and departments looking to bring an equity lens to the work that they're doing. Supplier diversity is a constant conversation in my line of work, even before the current interest in equitable development.
I'm also a community leader with the Asian Pacific Islander community, helping lift up opportunities for businesses and for those who have been marginalized, and those who've been under resourced.
I also helped with the state in crafting the Oregon's Diversity Equity and Inclusion Action Plan.
This brings a multifaceted aspect to my lens and worldview. I know what it looks like working with a large company, but also working with small businesses and community businesses helping them grow and become stable, prosper, and eventually become medium-sized businesses.
Also, my lived experience. I'm a Filipino American. I was born and raised on the Pacific Island of Guam, and I've lived here in Oregon for 20 plus years.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion works is central to Greater Portland Inc.’s plan to pursue the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. Is it fair to say that brining an equity and DEI lenses to projects is your primary focus?
I would agree with that. Equity and inclusion is a guiding principle for how we're approaching the work.
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How does fostering growth in communities of color lift the greater Portland region?
There have been enough studies done to show that if we help communities of color, and founders, business owners, and entrepreneurs of color, that our GDP, will grow. It’s a national dialogue that's happening constantly, and it's an important thread or theme that you will find in this current administration. We recognize that in past strategies oftentimes, small businesses are left out of the big picture strategy strategic plan.
When we talk about growing a competitive economy, folks oftentimes think of traded-sector companies and those clusters of the economy. But to have a healthy, robust and attractive economy, we also have to have a robust and healthy, small business ecosystem. When we talk about having a competitive economy, that also means being able to attract businesses that wants to invest here.
Our goal is to help small businesses grow and thrive and eventually look to become strong employers and vendors for traded-sector companies that are doing business across state and international borders. That supports the workforce and supports growth, and that goes along with attracting large employers to the state.
The timing of this is very appropriate to where we are in society, recognizing that if we grow more entrepreneurs, this will help those who have been disenfranchised for a very long time. Oregon has a racist history — that’s just based in fact — and helping to lift up business owners in communities of color and helping them to thrive and have upward mobility is a very important aspect of the strategy.
What kinds of projects will the GPEDD look for to stimulate growth in historically disenfranchised business communities?
A basic one is providing information. A lot of folks don't know where to get the information about not just economic opportunities, but what are the programs technical assistance they can tap into or utilize to help grow their knowledge and access to programs that are designed to help communities.
For example, at the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce, we're currently working with Prosper Portland. We have a program where we're helping business owners join their Small Business Network. Now those businesses are part of an ecosystem with 20+ organizations that are providing services throughout Portland, so if a business needs a CPA or access to an attorney, if they need access financial planning or they need to take a course, they can get that.
I think everyone wants to have access to that American dream. Equity and inclusion absolutely grounds me as a person and I use that as a grounding as the work I will do as a chair. Putting in place systems that will help bring about change or bring about opportunities for communities is really what this is all about.
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Another pillar of the CEDS regional plan is economic resiliency. Does that mean preparing the regional economically for natural disasters?
Resiliency has a lot of different definitions for different folks. When we talk about resiliency, it is the ability for our infrastructure to withstand any kind of unforeseen occurrence, including a pandemic. That was obviously something we did not have in our resiliency plans, but that happened.
Right now, in addition to regional competitiveness, we’re also looking at resiliency for physical infrastructure. We’re also looking at how do we collectively understand how sustainability and how climate technology comes into play. A lot of people want to talk about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and how to retrofit our infrastructure, and we want that retrofit to be carbon positive, not just carbon neutral, meaning it actually reduces carbon dioxide output overall.
What has the board done to prepare for its task?
We just launched the Greater Portland CEDS Dashboard, designed to help us see what progress we make over the next five years. From there we'll be able to also look at metrics and measurement and over the next five years and see where we need to make improvements, and be able to monitor and celebrate those successes.
We are self-monitoring, making sure we're checking ourselves on the progress of what we said we're going to do, and holding ourselves accountable.
How are you going to measure success?
How we look at and analyze data is always a conversation that happens when talking about progress and success. We just had the 2020 census, which was great. I loved the 2020 census as an Asian American, because it actually talks about the various Asian and Pacific Islander demographics. So that's a great resource.
We will also be looking at other regional data points that we can find through the Port of Portland, Travel Portland, and Visit Vancouver to understand how the hospitality industry is doing, how, visitors are spending their time and what they're spending their money on.
There's also the Metro who collects data as the different various counties that we would look to. We’re also going to be looking for what data points might be missing, what data isn't being gathered and collected so that we can have a clearer picture on what progress we're making.
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