Earlier this month, Portland was designated by Inc. magazine as the eighth worst city to do business in. Local politicians, long accustomed to fawning reviews by east coast media outlets, were stunned by this rebuke. Don Mazziotti, director of the Portland Development Commission, dismissed the ranking by saying, “If you use a screwy methodology, you get screwy results.”
Unfortunately for Portland, Inc. didn’t use warm and fuzzy criteria such as “livability” or “sustainability.” Instead, the magazine looked at hard evidence, including unemployment rates and job growth. By those measures, Portland simply does not compare well with other cities.
For too long, Portland officials have focused on big-ticket public works projects such as PGE Park, the streetcar, light rail and the OHSU tram. But these can’t possibly enhance Portland’s business climate because they all lose money—and force the city to make up the difference through taxation.
Portland businesses face high parking rates, an unfair business income tax, and system development fees far out of proportion to the actual impacts of new development. The cumulative effect of these and other tax burdens naturally encourages entrepreneurs to re-locate to other jurisdictions.
The way to make Portland more business-friendly is to do exactly the opposite of what we’ve been doing for the past decade: reduce public expenditures, lower taxes and repeal unnecessary regulations. This may not be as exciting for politicians, but it will make Portland more competitive.
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