The Legislature in 2023 took important, but limited, steps to improve Oregon’s economic competitiveness. These include the approval of $240 million in grants and loans for semiconductor and advanced-manufacturing businesses and the re-establishment of a research and development tax credit. However, lawmakers left other important economic-development work undone, including the extension and funding of Oregon’s Industrial Site Readiness Program. The Legislature should complete that work in 2024.

The program provides incentives for local governments to prepare industrial sites for use by employers that provide lucrative jobs and local tax revenue. Thanks largely to Oregon’s decades-old land use laws, industrial land is scarce. And even land zoned for industrial use typically requires significant capital investment, including infrastructure, brownfield cleanup and wetland mitigation, according to the Oregon Business Development Department, which administers the site-readiness program. Without the site-readiness program, these factors make industrial land prohibitively expensive for many businesses, which Oregon’s state and local governments need to create jobs and pay taxes.

Lawmakers in 2023 did consider a pair of bills, HB 2258 and HB 2663, that would have extended and funded the Industrial Site Readiness Program. The bills would not have addressed the regulatory and land-use policies that drive the underlying problem, testified OBI’s Scott Bruun, but they would have helped bridge the gap. Both died.

The Legislature will have another chance this year to extend the site-readiness program and provide about $40 million in funding. This request is dwarfed by the $500 million Gov. Tina Kotek intends to ask lawmakers to provide to boost housing supply. As with the site-readiness program, much of this money would be invested in site readiness, including the expansion of utilities and infrastructure. The cost of housing in Oregon is a significant problem that must be addressed. In addressing it, however, lawmakers shouldn’t ignore the needs of businesses, which provide the jobs Oregonians need to pay their rent, mortgages and, of course, the taxes state and local agencies need to function.