Things Look Different Here--in
Leaving Oregon, by
Janet Whitfield , 6/12/03
Spending the winter in North Carolina and having
a wonderful time. The ocean is usually blue, not
green, and there's hardly any rain, relatively
I'm learning the political makeup here and
comparing it, and other things, to my beloved
state of Oregon.
Like us, North Carolinians have a Democrat
governor and are split on U.S.
senators--Republican Dole and Democrat Edwards.
Their state house, like our senate, is split
down the middle, but the working solution
they've come up with is to give equal power to
both parties--in other words, two speakers.
And their senate is in the hands of the
Democrats and the senate president is the
Democrat lieutenant governor, elected by the
people statewide. She runs the legislative
So we can expect North Carolina to be more
liberal than Oregon, right?
Wrong. Things look different here. This is the
South, after all. And here in the South, the
economy--not the environment--rules.
North Carolina has a $42 billion economy; Oregon
just $19 billion.
So I looked into reasons why North Carolina's
economy is so much bigger than ours. Here's what
North Carolina has twice as many people: 8
million to our 3.5 million. But Oregon, at
97,073 square miles, is almost twice as big as
North Carolina, just 52,669 square miles. In
others words, they have twice as many people on
half the land.
With that density level it stands to reason that
North Carolina would be more urban than Oregon.
Well, yes it is. North Carolina has seven cities
with populations of more than 100,000. The
largest city, Charlotte, has about 2.2 million
in its metropolitan area. Oregon has two large
cities--Portland and Eugene--and the Portland
metropolitan area has about 1.5 million.
Compared to us you could call North Carolina an
But North Carolina is also a farm-oriented
state. In spite of having so little space with
so many people, North Carolina considers
agriculture its number-one industry. In fact,
the state ranks third nationally in farm profits
with a net farm income of over $3.2 billion.
Oregon ranks 36th with a net farm income of a
little under $266 million.
Net income per farm in North Carolina is over
$57,000. Oregon's net farm income per farm is
On a recent trip home to Oregon, I sat through
staggered access lights before I could get onto
Sunset Highway where I inched along in commuter
traffic. I have yet to see such a traffic
control concoction in North Carolina.
You would think, in a state with 8 million
people and seven cities over 100,000, that
getting people into mass transit would be a
major priority. Oh yes, they have inner city
buses, but the cities have yet to build a
trolley system like Portland's, and they have no
monorail or light rail--although I hear
Charlotte is looking into it.
What this state has instead are more than 78,000
miles of paved, four-lane highways. Oregon, less
When congress finally got serious about
dismantling some of the no-longer useful
military bases, elected officials found they
couldn't bear, politically, to see the civilian
jobs that would be eliminated if such a thing
happened in their districts. It's federal money
to the state. So they appointed a commission to
take some of the difficult responsibility off
the shoulders of Congress.
No problem with Oregon. Not only have we not
seriously cultivated military spending here--at
least not since World War II--but we can't wait
to see our single military
installation--Umatilla Army Depot--go away.
Things are different here in North Carolina.
When the U.S. military mobilizes like it has for
the Iraq situation, there's an effect on local
economies. The state has eight permanent
military bases that provide a direct economic
impact that exceeds $7 billion annually. Here,
slightly more than 100,000 active-duty military
are stationed, while only about 3,500 serve in
Timber is king in Oregon--or used to be.
According to the Oregon Bluebook, we have gone
from 9 billion board feet harvested in 1971 to
just 3.4 billion board feet harvested in 2001.
In Oregon's Douglas County trees grow the
fastest, tallest and fattest of anywhere in the
world. So it stands to reason that if you want
to save the environment, the most efficient way
to do that would be to cut in Oregon first.
So why cut a bunch of skinny pine trees in the
South? North Carolina has lots of forestland but
not nearly as much as Oregon. They have 19.3
million acres of forest compared to our 29.7
million. But, when it comes to cutting timber,
they're doing a pretty good at keeping up with
us--in fact better. In 1999 North Carolina's
forests produced about 793 million cubic feet of
timber, which roughly translates to about 9.5
billion board feet.
I have to tell you, in taking a look at the two
states I spent considerable time on the websites
for both Oregon and North Carolina. Oregon's
official website emphasizes conserving natural
resources, improving the environment, and
guiding land use. But, "land use," or anything
like it, doesn' even appear on North Carolina'
home page or list of government agencies at
www.ncgov.com nor does it come up in a search of
the government website.
So I called the North Carolina governor' office,
to politely ask about how they coordinate land
use planning from the state level. They didn't
know, but sent me to the Commerce Department.
They didn't know, but sent me to Environment and
Natural Resources and if that didn'Twork, they
told me to try the Community Assistance Office.
The Department of Environment and Natural
Resources said that land use planning is pretty
much left up to local jurisdictions--meaning
they're not expending a good portion of their
tax base trying to keep state-required
comprehensive plans up to date. And they're
making development decisions on their own
without much interference from state laws and
rules. The governor, however, does appoint
members to the Division of Coastal Management.
This office gets involved less with zoning and
more with preserving public beaches and
waterfronts, monitoring erosion rates,
conserving wetlands and assessing coastal
development--and involves only those counties
bordering the coast.
Here's what goes into my garbage can here: just
about everything. Beer bottles, soda cans, tin
cans, newspapers, wet vegetables--you name it;
they're all in there. No additional sacks and
cartons with flattened tin cans and papers
divided by color. The garbage receptacle
(brought to you by Waste Management, Inc.) is
bigger than any garbage can I've ever seen and
they pick it up twice a week.
In Oregon, on the other hand, all cities with
populations over 4,000 must offer curbside
recycling (whether the material actually gets
recycled or not).
Like Oregon, North Carolina has put considerable
effort into attracting the high tech industry.
Unlike Oregon, this eastern state went out of
its way to affiliate the endeavor with its top
universities and managed to locate much of its
high tech community between three points--Duke
University in Durham, North Carolina State
University in Raleigh, and the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill--which became the
well-known Research Triangle Park.
The result is that North Carolina now has
141,500 high tech employees, compared to
Oregon's 81,400. Statistics from the American
Electronics Association also show that although
Oregon's average per person high tech salary is
higher ($72,700 compared to their $62,500),
North Carolina's total high tech payroll is
considerably larger, $8.8 billion compared to
$6.2 billion in Oregon.
And the North Carolina setting is more
attractive to venture capital investors, who in
2001 poured twice as much into North Carolina
firms ($616 million) as they did into Oregon
($258 million). Things apparently look more
Now I'm sure there will be readers who will tell
you that the people are very different in
Oregon. That being one of the richest states
isn't important. That being a state with a clean
environment, where resources are protected is
what counts. In fact, a 1992 study by the Oregon
Business Council concluded that Portland
metropolitan citizens care most of all about the
beauty of Oregon (31 percent), environmental
quality (13 percent), and that only 2 percent
valued a strong, diverse economy and good
As I grew up in Oregon we often poked fun at the
backwardness of the South. But now, it seems,
they are passing us by. Oregon has developed a
think smaller, anti-business attitude that is
approaching no growth. But at what point will
the economy tilt so low that there's no
attraction for industry at all? What then will
become of my beloved Oregon?