It wasn't too long ago that you couldn't go to a Metro Policy Advisory Committee meeting without seeing dozens of plastic lapel pins that said "JOBS." In the depths of the Great Recession, employment was first on everyone's mind.
The days of the JOBS pins are over, but on Wednesday, MPAC took on the topic again. Not to recommend a new industrial development, nor to support a brownfields mitigation program.
Instead, MPAC was looking at the region's workforce – and how improving equity in greater Portland can also improve the region's economy.
The committee voted Wednesday to authorize MPAC Chair Tim Clark to write a letter supporting Metro's draft strategy for racial equity, diversity and inclusion. The Metro Council is set to consider the strategy later this month.
The plan outlines a path for improving equity at Metro, and measuring whether the regional government is meeting its goals in its programs, services and policies.
"We're trying to become very competitive with the rest of the world," said Carl Talton, a member of the committee that advised Metro on developing the strategy. "We're understanding that our ability to be competitive means that we not only have to be able to attract talent, but retain and grow talent."
Betty Dominguez, another member of Metro's Equity Strategy Advisory Committee, also sits on MPAC as a citizen representative from Clackamas County. She said her employer's workforce is about 40 percent non-white.
"You think, 'That's a good balance,' but what we've found … is the folks of color are not moving into leadership positions," Dominguez said. "They're at the entry level, front-line, lower-wage. What can we do to promote equitable advancement? What are the barriers?"
One of the barriers, said Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, is leadership.
"We are the leaders in our counties and our cities. We make the decisions on who is at the table," Smith said. "So we do have something to do. We can widen that net when we're looking for leadership at the top, and think about some of those things in racial equity and diversity and inclusion. Because it's easy to talk to our friends. Generally our friends look like us, and if we want to widen that net a bit, we have an opportunity to bring more folks in."
Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith said she'd like to see the equity effort increase its focus on youth.
"People in their 20s and 30s are seeking employment," she said. "Forty percent of our work force is due to retire in the coming years. As we do this, can we include young people in the effort?"
Dominguez pointed out some specific things that can be done to help young people.
"We've talked a lot about young people," Dominguez said. "We know the barriers for those young folks are lack of education, lack of career training, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), CTE (Career and Technical Education) – they're all very important."
While MPAC's endorsement was neither sought by the Metro Council nor needed, it does offer another voice of support for the draft strategy. A public hearing on the strategy is scheduled for June 16, with a vote planned for June 23.