"My upbringing was with a family that got by at times with subsidized housing and public support. I know what it's like to live in a beautiful place but not feel financially secure. I know the value of a good job to the success of a family and the success of a city." – Oregonian November 9, 2008
Sam would bring to Portland City Council 19 years of experience improving city government, including:
Campaign manager and mayoral chief of staff during the end of the 1991 economic downturn and jobless recovery
Mayoral chief of staff during the national recession in the early 2000s
Mayor during the Great Recession of 2008, which was the deepest downturn since the Great Depression
During these times and others, he led or helped craft and implement policies that help deal with disasters and help Portland recover. He has actual hands-on and behind-the-scenes expertise and experience in what’s worked and what did not.
Whoever wins the race for City Council Position No. 4 will take office on January 2, 2021, which will undoubtedly be a time of ongoing economic and social upheaval. Sam has hands-on experience leading the city successfully through tough economic times.
Jobs and Businesses
Sam took office as mayor on January 1, 2009, just weeks after the Wall Street crash.
Portland was one of the hardest-hit cities, mainly because its economy was (and still is) based on midsized manufacturing firms and very small businesses. These businesses often lack the deep pockets of national corporations.
At the time, Portland had gone 16 years without an update to its economic development policy.
With a public, private, and nonprofits, Sam developed a set of goals to help create 10,000 jobs in 5 years and led a plan-as-you-act effort to create and implement a jobs and business plan.
This strategy included four export-related local target industries, offering formative support for businesses large and small. Each target industry had unique needs that we helped address, and our support helped create 10,000 net jobs in three years.
Public-Private Partnerships to Implement Job Creation Strategy
This economic development strategy was driven by and is still sustained by public/private partnerships that Sam helped establish, including:
Initial Public Funds to Leverage More Private Dollars for Local Startups
The local tech industry during the Great Recession was starved for startup investors. But Sam and others believed the tech industry had enormous untapped potential. He co-created a unique partnership across state and local governments and the private sector called the Portland Seed Fund. As the Washington, DC-based venture capital news outlet 1776 wrote:
Amid the worst recession in a generation, Portland did something extraordinary … It created one of the first publicly backed seed funds in the United States to invest in local startups, helping 74 companies and attracting an additional $100 million in outside capital.
Hyperlocal Economic Neighborhood Business Main Streets Plan: Complementing the 20-Minute Walkable Complete Neighborhood
Like now, the city faced substantial gridlock. This was not just because of home-to-work car commuting; about 70% of car trips were Portlanders doing errands or seeking entertainment.
In short, people couldn't get what they needed nearby. Portlanders living in the poorer neighborhoods had it the worst.
To address these inequities and create neighborhood jobs simultaneously, Sam and neighborhood business leaders created a Neighborhood Economic Development Strategy.
This plan linked to the city’s 20-minute Complete Neighborhood Plan so that more Portlanders could get what they needed by driving less than 20 minutes.
To fast-track progress in the poorest Portland neighborhood business districts, we worked with the county to create and implement the Neighborhood Prosperity Network (NPN). The NPN is cited as a national best practice:
"Central to community wealth building is the driver of inclusion, the opening up of economic opportunity and voice to previously excluded social groups. This is at work in strategies like participant-led development—such as Portland's Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative." Cities Building Community Wealth
National and International Export Promotion Strategy
For a city to improve its economic standards, its businesses need to do more than just sell goods and services to the people who live in the city. Portland's economy needed to become more resilient. Our businesses needed to find new customers outside the city.
To help local companies do this, Sam worked with them to boost their exports of goods and services, by co-creating the first Portland Export Plan, as well as Greater Portland, Inc. (GPI)To help implement it. The city made the first financial pledge to get GIP off the ground.
A City That Works in Tough Times
Every few years or so, research was published based on a survey asking Portland residents whether the city is going in the right direction. Here are the numbers:
60: The percentage of Portlanders who stated they believed the city was going in the right direction when Sam was elected mayor. At that time, the economy was booming.
60: The percentage of Portlanders who stated they believed the city was going in the right direction when Sam finished his term, during which we were enduring the Great Recession.
30 to 40: The percentage of Portlanders who stated in the middle of last year that they believed the city was going in the right direction. At that time, the economy was at an all-time high.
In short, despite the recent economic boom, Portlanders have been unhappy with the direction the city has been taking. We need a more effective city government.
"Sam deepened and grew WRI's climate action research and educational work in the United States and beyond. At a time when this country needed it most, Sam and his team, with evidence-based research and recommendations, pushed back on those that sought to dismiss the root causes of our collective climate crisis. And as co-manager of the launch of America's Pledge, he showed how cities could and should step up their climate actions efforts." – Paula Caballero, World Resources Institute (WRI), former Director of the Global Climate Action Program*
Since leaving City Hall, Sam has traveled all around the US and the world working on city policies, both as the United States country director at the World Resources Institute in Washington DC and as an independent consultant. He’s seen how many cities in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and North America often face similar challenges. He says he feels lucky to have had the privilege to learn from some of the most innovative experts on urban problems.
“Practical and inspiring: former Mayor Sam Adams’ keynote presentation about how he and his team guided Portland through the 2008 recession, helping to city’s economy by focusing on small local businesses and entrepreneurs.” – Mitzu Yamazaki, 2020 Gyeongnam Korea Forum
As a City Councilor, Sam would seek to bring new energy, fresh thinking, and insights into creative approaches gleaned from his travels. For example, he believes more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable local economic development strategies are based on the concept of local circular economics. Portland has not taken full advantage of such policies.
We will recover from this pandemic, but we want to improve in a way that positions our city to be more robust and more equitable for the next time a calamity hits.
* For identification purposes only, WRI does not endorse candidates.