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Our Opinion: Intel invests in state's economic future

Intel Corp.’s plan to invest $100 billion in Washington County during the next 30 years resounded like an economic thunderclap. And, like a bolt of economic lightning, the pact offered a jolt to a state economy stirring from doldrums.

Monday’s announcement by officials from Washington County and the city of Hillsboro was just the stuff that Oregon’s economy needed. The investment is in billions — with a “B,” as Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers so eloquently put it.

Gov. John Kitzhaber offered his praise of the pact: “This historic investment makes our state a global leader in high-tech manufacturing and is proof positive that Oregon is fertile soil for business to grow and families to prosper.”

But this investment represents far more to Hillsboro, Washington County and Oregon as a whole.

It wasn’t that many years ago that Oregon’s economy was dependent upon the timber industry. Millions of board feet of lumber sustained the state’s economy and supported generations of families.

Today, we find that in Oregon’s economy is more rooted in forests of silicon rather than Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine.

In contrast to Intel’s $100 billion announcement, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute reported that in 2013, the forest sector employed 76,000 people, generated $5.2 billion in total income, and $12.7 billion in direct economic output.

A sizable contribution to the Beaver State’s economy to be sure, but it clearly represents the past and not the future of Oregon’s economy.

Critics point out that the proposed agreement could mean that Intel would never have to face a change in property taxes for the duration of the proposed 30-year agreement.

What’s more, Intel freely admits that this investment isn’t about job creation, but rather keeping jobs here.

All true, but as Jill Eiland, Intel’s Northwest Region corporate affairs manager said, “Without the SIP agreements Intel would not have invested to this level in Oregon.”

That level of investment has not only resulted in thousands of high-paying jobs (the average wage of Intel’s 17,500 employees is $168,000 per year), but even with the SIP agreement, Intel still pays the most property taxes in Washington County — four times the amount paid by anyone else.

However, there is more to this deal than just dollars and cents. With strong ties and financial support for Oregon’s seven public universities, Intel provides the means for local college grads to get excellent jobs in high-tech industry — something that is proving to be the exception and not the rule for most college grads.

In a recent survey by CFM Strategic Communications, only 13 percent of respondents said that the outlook for college graduates entering the job market was good.

A whopping 85 percent said they were neutral or pessimistic about getting post-secondary work. Fifty percent of the respondents said that working as an intern was the most important factor in finding work after college.

Intel’s growth provides both internship and post-secondary job opportunities.

Let’s debate whether it’s in everyone’s best interest to allow Intel this level of property tax exemption. The fact is that Oregon wasn’t about to let Intel slip away, or even send potential research and development jobs elsewhere.

Intel represents a big part of the future of industry, and local, county and state officials are making sure the state remains a major player in the future with this investment.