Albany’s business community invited all three candidates in the race for Oregon governor to speak at a forum and annual convention.
Betsy Johnson showed up.
A crowd of several hundred clapped at times Wednesday, Sept. 21 during the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce event while Johnson lambasted regulations at state agencies she said smother Oregon businesses and stifle economic expansion.
“DEQ, DSL, E-I-E-I-O — we are not a business-friendly state,” Johnson said in an interview before the forum.
Johnson said she had toured a site with Albany’s director of economic development who told her state wetlands requirements have kept investors from building houses or commercial structures.
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“How damn difficult the state makes it,” she said.
Some wetlands in Oregon are technically buildable but require mitigation — compensating by replacing lost wetlands elsewhere, often driving up developers’ costs.
At the same time, Johnson said she sees Albany establishing itself in the state as a business hub. ATI, a fixture in the city’s titanium manufacturing sector, collaborates with other businesses in a Columbia County public-private research concern called Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center.
Albany will insert itself into global shipping streams when the Mid-Willamette Valley Intermodal Center opens in nearby Millersburg with an estimated start date of later this year. Managers have said the center will export grass seed and import consumer goods for major retailers.
Johnson sat on the congressional committees pushing funding to state agencies when Oregon Department of Transportation selected the Millersburg site in 2019.
Business developments attract the attention of out-of-state investors, Johnson said, and signals that there are communities trying to draw money into Oregon.
“You got to go to Albany,” Johnson said.
Albany’s chamber represents 500 businesses. Chamber staff said another nearly 400 dropped out after state health department mandates, like shut-downs and occupancy limits, led member businesses to close or cut back on costs.
More than 90 businesses had set up 101 booths at the chamber’s annual Albany Business Extravaganza.
Chamber board President Stacie Wyss-Schoenborn introduced Johnson as an “equal-opportunity pisser-offer.”
The former state legislator leaned on her ownership of a helicopter business and nearly four terms representing small towns in Senate District 16, covering Oregon’s northwest.
A long-time politician running an outsider campaign, a former Democrat who aligned with Republican policies, Johnson spent her first few guest speaking minutes telling chamber members what she isn’t.
“Oregonians are skeptical of the far right and terrified of the progressive left,” Johnson said.
Johnson said opponent Tina Kotek on the Democratic ticket sides with activists who seek to end funding for police, and Republican nominee Christine Drazan has taken an anti-abortion stance on Oregon's fiercely defended health care access laws.
“They want us to pick between public safety and women’s health,” she said.
Johnson’s stumping positioned her as a business advocate from somewhere in the middle.
Self-describing as a "business-friendly Democrat," Johnson said she's pro-natural resources industries. Many of her positions, and answers to chamber members' questions about policy, came down to deregulation.
"It doesn't matter how beautiful your state is if you can't afford to live here," Johnson said.
Alex Powers (he/him) covers business, environment and healthcare for Mid-Valley Media. Call 541-812-6116 or email Alex.Powers@lee.net.