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A call to be ambitious

Remember when success was a good thing? And what it was like before successes and business owners were demonized by political leaders? Remember when people could talk about their successes and ambitions openly?

My favorite opening line when I visit with contractors has always been, “How’s business?” But for the last few years it was delivered with a much more sympathetic tone, because it was met time and again by the lowering and shaking of a head.

No one, it seemed, wanted to talk about business. If business was bad, it made them too sad and/or angry to discuss. If business was good, it seemed to make them feel guilty to the point that they could only speak of it in hushed tones and private conversations.

There are still a few folks who answer, “Get me more work.” But most contractors now reveal conservative optimism.

When I ask the question now, it is like ambition and success are, at very least, on the positive side of the emotion-meter. I get a lot of “pretty goods” and a fair number of “we have backlog.” I am even hearing people talking about “finally retiring” and not in the “I guess I will shutter the place” kind of way.

Businesses have enough equity that buyers are interested and able to let those owners really consider cashing out. In fact, I think there will be several surprise retirements come the first of the year.

Are we all where we want to be? No.

We are single-digit percentage points off the floor of the worst economic downturn in our regional industry’s history. But instead of dreadful layoffs, employers are struggling to find the quality and qualified employees they need without overinvesting.

“But John, the national numbers are still bad, unemployment is still high and we are hearing talk of more recession.”

To that I say: Oregon was hit harder and earlier than our share of the economy suggests we should have been. This has led to slow growth – but in a way that is leading the nation and not trailing it. In fact, many of the national concerns about low-level performance mirror what we saw here in 2011 and not today.

Is it still the construction comeback that Intel built? Yes, but who cares how it arrived? It’s here.

So many of the more conservative folks in the crowd will now say, “John, you aren’t supposed to talk about ambition and success. How can we beat Obama if you make it sound like things are going well?”

To that I say: It ain’t that good yet.

Many of the more liberal folks in the crowd will now say, “John, you aren’t supposed to talk about ambition and success. How dare you imply that business owners should make more money?”

To that I say again: It ain’t that good yet.

This fall’s elections will be spirited and interesting. Vote with your conscience, but keep in mind that the administration is much more than one person. It is agency heads appointed to do what they think is right. That includes a National Labor Relations Board that is not exactly business-friendly and environmental agencies that all too often aren’t interested in finding balance between jobs and environmental protection.

And it is cities that choose winners and losers instead of letting competition and innovation bring the best product forward. It is also legislators who aren’t exactly prioritizing private-sector job growth.

My call to action this month is to be ambitious. Vote for business. Vote for jobs. Vote for success.

John Killin is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Pacific Northwest chapter and executive director of the Independent Electrical Contractors of Oregon.

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