Urban renewal will yield a big return on investment: a world-class Portland State
Author: by Scott Dawson, guest columnist for the Oregonian
Posted: June 5, 2012

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Recent conversation about the urban-renewal area anchored by Portland State University has focused on the impact of urban renewal on future tax revenues to the city, the county and Portland Public Schools, but very little attention has been paid to the enormous contribution that PSU makes to the regional economy. 

Portland State is one of Oregon's largest employers, with an annual economic impact of $1.4 billion and more than 600 community partnerships. It is the state's largest and most diverse university, educating nearly 30,000 students from around the world. With so much growth, business and civic leaders want PSU to become a world-class university, but that is not possible without world-class facilities. State cuts in funding for higher education require PSU to be creative in how it finances expansion. 

As dean of the School of Business Administration, I am compelled to make the case for investing $2 million of the projected $169 million generated by the URA over the next 25 years into the SBA's building project. 

First, the majority of our 2,800 undergraduate and 650 graduate students will stay in the region and play a role in starting and leading the businesses and organizations that fuel our economy, create jobs and pay taxes. In my 12 years as dean, every businessperson I have met with believes that Portland should have a great university. If the region is to prosper, Portland needs a business school that attracts and produces the best talent possible, like Foster at the University of Washington, Haas at the University of California at Berkeley or Anderson at the University of California at Los Angeles. Faculty and graduates from those business schools have had a profound impact on their communities. 

Core to the SBA's strategy has been strengthening our faculty, who in turn create, design and deliver high-quality degree programs. The fact that the SBA is ranked 14th in the world (first for small MBA programs) by the Aspen Institute for its curriculum on sustainability suggests that the strategy is on the right track. The current experience for students and faculty is compromised by an outdated, bunker-style building, however. Built in 1987, PSU's School of Business Administration is physically inferior to other top-rated business schools. Prospective students who visit the schools noted above are drawn in part by their modern facilities. 

The expansion and renovation of the SBA is a $50 million project, and the urban renewal portion will contribute only a fraction of that total. Leveraging that $2 million from urban renewal will enable us to nearly triple our footprint, add 11 classrooms and 25 team study rooms, enhance space for student services and add space for our centers in real estate, sustainability, retail, and innovation and entrepreneurship. The innovation and entrepreneurship center -- a collaboration with PSU's Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science -- will spin off new technology and businesses across the region. 

The return on investment is obvious. Attracting more top students and providing them with a better experience will produce better leaders. That means more alumni like Greg Ness, CEO of The Standard; Rick Miller, CEO of Avamere; Becky Gratsinger, CEO of R.V. Kuhns; and Bill Stoller, CEO of Express Employment Professionals. These business leaders make decisions weekly that create jobs and drive our economy. 

The urban renewal investment in Portland State ensures that we will have the facilities necessary to compete to attract Oregon's business leaders of tomorrow. 

Scott Dawson is dean of the School of Business Administration at Portland State University.