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Annual gathering lets leaders, citizens share ideas on how to better region through partnerships

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Bess Wills, Lila Leathers, and Dan Corcoran took part in a small business panel during an Economic Prosperity Forum.A group of East Multnomah County residents and leaders gathered Thursday to brainstorm ideas and breakdown silos between groups that don't always find themselves in the same room.

The goal of the second East Metro Economic Prosperity Forum was to generate projects and ideas to guide elected officers, reinforce equity and help East Multnomah County realize its full potential.

"The decisions we make here have a local impact," said Jarvez Hall, executive director of EMEA.

The East Metro Economic Alliance invited about 50 participants from key segments of the community to participate in the all-day forum on Thursday, May 9, at the Rockwood Boys and Girls Club, 454 S.E. 165th Ave. The event featured guest speakers, a small business panel, interactive breakout conversations and group presentations.

"We wanted an event where people could engage and set the direction for the future," Hall said.

EMEA is a nonprofit organization comprising businesses, chambers of commerce and public agencies working together to shape the future of the region. It focuses on development and livability in Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale and Wood Village.

Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann and Chabre Vickers, with Title Sponsor Wells Fargo, both kicked off the forum with greetings.

"East Multnomah County is distinctive for many reasons," Vickers said. "We have an amazing sense of community and have vibrant leaders — many of whom are here."

Christian Kaylor, a workforce economist for the Oregon Employment Department, was the featured speaker, discussing the county's economic outlook. The main thrust of his discussion was the discrepancy between the east and western sections of Multnomah County, and how those differences affect growth, employment and housing.

"I want the east side of the region to be just as prosperous as the rest," said Metro regional government Councilor Shirley Craddick.

Halfway through the forum, participants broke into small groups to take a deep dive into specific topics, including education and workforce development, housing choices, industry and entrepreneurship, and transportation.

A highlight of the gathering was a small business panel that provided specific examples of the struggles and opportunities in East Multnomah County. The panel comprised Lila Leathers of Leathers Fuels; Bess Wills of Gresham Ford; and Dan Corcoran of McDonald & Wetle commercial roofing.

They first talked about the struggles of being underrepresented as small businesses, and how they take on the brunt of tax burdens designed with large corporations in mind.

"Small business is carrying the weight," Wills said. "We are taxed like the successful downtown (Portland) businesses. When you get a super majority, things get out of balance."

All three agreed that the primary positive of doing business in East Multnomah County is the community — aptly represented by the forum in which they took part.

"The people here are great, the Chamber of Commerce is great, and there are good connections with other businesses," Leathers said.

As intended, the discussions at the prosperity forum have a real impact. One of the main ideas from the inaugural forum in spring 2018 was to create a transportation hub at Mt. Hood Community College. That concept has since won awards for its innovation and inclusivity.

"This forum brings a unique group together who bring their own expertise and thoughts," Jarvez Hall noted.

To learn more or become a member of EMEA, visit

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