Brad Witt wants to support jobs that can withstand today's daunting economic, environmental and social challenges.
With gas prices rising by the day, manufacturing jobs moving overseas and climate change upsetting the Earth's ecological balance, some industries will have to adapt or die.
"A lot of people see global warming as a big hassle they don't want to deal with," said the state representative from Clatskanie. "But I see an opportunity to create great, family-wage jobs and to develop significant employment opportunities in Northwest Oregon."
To explore those opportunities, Witt invited several speakers and panelists to lead a town hall meeting on sustainable jobs in rural Oregon in Astoria Monday. About 50 people turned out to talk about how to create those jobs on the North Coast.
Speakers included Erik Knoder, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, Barbara Bird, climate change advisor for the Oregon Association of Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, William Street, a woodworkers representative for the machinists union, and Ron Williams, president of the Northwest Log Truckers Cooperative.
The panelists, who responded to the speakers and asked questions, included Witt, state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, District Attorney Josh Marquis, Clatsop Community College President Greg Hamann and Astoria City Councilor Peter Roscoe.
Together, the group began a discussion on what kind of changes are needed in the local community to train workers for jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency fields, manage local forests to store carbon and reform existing jobs to make them economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.
"The question for us in Clatsop County right now is: Are there other things we can do right now to avail our work force of these new job opportunities?" said Johnson.
Hunting for high-paying jobsClatsop County hasn't lost as many manufacturing jobs as other counties in recent years, said Knoder, and the number of employed people in the county has been growing about 1 percent per year.
But wages here and around the country have been declining since the late 1970s - even as workers' productivity has continued to rise. In 1976, the average worker in Clatsop County made $35,000 per year, when adjusted for inflation; now the average annual income is $29,000.
"It doesn't just feel like it's getting tougher," said Knoder. "It actually is."
His advice for finding higher-paying jobs is to look at industries with barriers to entry, such as education, training or licenses, and to look for jobs that are in demand.
The highest paying jobs in Clatsop County last year were in manufacturing, where workers made an average wage of $48,480. Workers made an average wage of $46,700 in wood products manufacturing last year.
Cashing in on climate policyOregon's pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 is going to force a paradigm shift in many industries, said Bird.
New job opportunities are opening up in energy conservation - designing, constructing and retrofitting green buildings, for example - and in renewable energy, installing and maintaining solar panels, wind turbines, and wave energy generators.
"We want to make sure green jobs are good jobs that pay a family wage and provide benefits," she said. "What we don't want are dead-end, low-paying green jobs."
Not all industries will benefit from the impending climate change policies. Bird said utility and coal plant jobs "may be in jeopardy if we don't do this thing right."
"We want to have our cake and eat it too," she said. "We want to solve global warming, create jobs and protect the jobs we have."
Johnson said most people want to know how the new policies and new job openings can help them.
Hamann said Clatsop Community College is always looking for new ways to provide training for jobs that are in demand.
When it comes to providing training for the new green job market, Johnson said leaders need to know "how many of what can you make how fast for how much," so they can provide funding.
Forests can helpClatsop County could benefit if climate policy makers decide to treat forests as "carbon storage sticks," said Street.
Managing the forests to maximize carbon sequestration would be good for the planet and for the wood products industry, he said. And, done in a sustainable manner, it would protect biodiversity and keep forests from being sold to developers.
According to his calculations, using wood instead of concrete or steel for building structures cuts carbon emissions by 27 percent.
"Environmentalists and woodworkers should come together," he said. "We all want to protect forests."
To support local jobs, he said, governments should revamp their purchasing policies so they're not buying things solely based on the lowest price.
Log haulers in a bindWilliams explained how rising fuel prices have exposed the plight of log truckers, who don't have any bargaining power to set their haul rates.
Because of the way logging contracts are drawn up between loggers and forest land owners, the independent businesses that truck the logs to the mills don't get a say in how much they get paid for their work.
The result of the arrangement has been stagnant wages, reduced profits and fewer safety precautions. Williams said a new bill sponsored by Witt could help solve the problem. The bill would instruct the Oregon Department of Forestry to oversee haul rate negotiations between the truckers and the forest landowners.
Today, log truckers are putting a third of their income into their fuel tanks, said Williams. And because they can't raise their rates, truckers are forced to take more jobs, carry heavier loads and drive faster to make up for that rising expense.
"Should all of us, when we pass by a truck going the opposite way on the road, be concerned for our safety?" Witt asked Williams.
"Absolutely," said Williams. "That's what this is all about."