UO faculty report outlines a framework for economic recovery

Reopening sign in store window

With Oregon’s economy facing a contraction of historic proportions driven by the coronavirus pandemic, a team of UO faculty members have assembled a framework for helping the state best begin its recovery from the crisis.

To tackle an issue as broad as the state’s economy itself, the UO faculty members come from a broad spectrum of disciplines and have collaborated with ECONorthwest, a firm with deep UO ties, on a report that offers guidelines to government and economic development groups on how to quickly and effectively help jumpstart Oregon’s economy once it is safe to do so.

“We have two crises linked together and unfolding at same time — the global pandemic health crisis and economic crisis that’s directly related to the health crisis — that are inextricably linked,” said Bob Parker, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Engagement, part ofthe School of Planning, Public Policy, and Management in the College of Design.

“What we say in the paper is it’s going to require an unprecedented level of coordination among economic development agencies,” Parker said. “It will require them to coordinate with partners they are not accustomed to coordinating with and will require a set of skills nobody anticipated they would need.”

In addition to Parker, UO faculty members contributing to the report include Josh Bruce, associate director of the UO’s Institute for Policy Research & Engagement and program director of the Oregon Partnership for Disaster Resilience; Benjamin Clark, associate professor in the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management; and Tim Duy, professor of practice and director of the Oregon Economic Forum. They worked closely on the report with three staff members at ECONorthwest, including John Tapogna, a UO alumnus and the company’s president.

Having strong leadership and acting fast are critical parts of the process, the paper’s authors said. That includes setting policy that outlines objectives and goals that will guide the recovery process.

The report, “Responding to the Economic Impacts of Coronavirus: A Proposed Oregon Economic Recovery and Resilience Framework,” outlines six actions officials should take immediately: Distributing federal aid quickly, mobilizing core teams, working with the assets on hand, analyzing risk, applying principles of agile strategy and getting started now.

“We don’t want to get stuck in typical decision-making patterns of focusing so much on the process and discussing things,” Clark said. “We need to start planning for things now in a way that’s much more substantive than maybe there’s capacity for. Let’s start thinking four, five, six months out about what that looks like rather than be completely unprepared.”

The report also could help ensure that federal aid is spent wisely and effectively, Duy said.

“Where I think this framework is helpful,” he said, “is as federal money starts flowing and we think about where we could make investments, that’s a good time to think about where to make effective investments so that money isn’t wasted, and what kind of investments are those? The infrastructure investments that make our communities livable are where we should be focusing our efforts.”

Already, the report has circulated among local and state governments, regional associations such as the Western Governors Association, and economic development groups throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, including the Oregon Business Council, and reaching as far east as North Dakota. Faculty members on the team are being sought out by local governments who lack the capacity to research methods on reopening governments and the economy.

In addition, the UO’s center of economic development, one of 70 such centers nationwide, was among seven centers selected to form a research consortium that will develop a comprehensive outline for response and resilience strategies.

No playbook exists for absorbing the blows the state has already been dealt or restarting the economy after intentionally shutting down large swaths of it, the report’s authors note.

“The idea was to basically flip a light switch and everything would go back to normal,” Duy said. “And what’s becoming evident is there is no such thing as going back to normal, at least any time soon. The length of this is causing more and more economic damage along the way. Without having some broader public health strategy, it’s going to be very hard to reopen the economy.”

One goal of the report is to minimize duplication of efforts among economic development agencies at various levels throughout the state.

“We’re wasting capacity in everybody trying to come up with a solution, a plan,” Clark said. “Regions are going to be different, but there’s so much commonality that each city, county region could really learn from one another. We’re trying to be an aid and focal point for those discussions.”

What Parker and the report’s authors want is for officials to start thinking about some of the hard choices that need to be made, such as how invest a limited amount of federal money in ways that will create a more resilient economy and spark a faster recovery.

They hope to be deeply imbedded in efforts throughout the state as the crisis and recovery unfold, supporting efforts rather than duplicating them. That is exactly where the faculty of the Institute for Policy Research & Engagement could have a positive impact, Parker said.

“This is what we’ve been doing for last 25 years: focusing around emergency management, disaster resiliency and economic development,” he said. “And they’ve really come to bear with this particular crisis.”

—By Jim Murez, University Communications