Bureaucracy. Political machinations in Salem and Washington. A worldwide economic malaise.
Speakers at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce's annual Economic Outlook Forum offered numerous explanations for the economic doldrums in which the South Coast continues to languish.
Executives of two projects came to attest that state regulators had impeded their efforts. One of them, Jeffrey Bishop, lambasted Oregon's 'undefined, arbitrary and inflexible permit culture."
Bishop, who recently resigned as the Coos Bay port's CEO and is leaving the Port at the end of this month, said the port had been trying for 7 years and 3 months to obtain a fill and removal permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands for a slip terminal on the North Spit of Coos Bay.
In contrast, he said, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration started applying for comparable permits in 2009 to build its marine operations center in Newport. DSL granted the permits in November 2010, and the facility was completed in April.
Although the Coos Bay project is associated with a controversial liquefied natural gas proposal, 'A hole is a hole," Bishop said.
Bishop hauled a visual aid onto the stage: two four-inch-thick binders that, he said, contained two permit applications that DSL had ruled incomplete. He held up a third that contained a third attempt, still in progress.
He suggested political motives for the state's rulings. A project that 'meets some powerful person's agenda" gets assistance from regulators, he said. But if a project is politically unwelcome, agencies turn 'obstructionist."
Despite those obstacles, Bishop said, the port remains committed to maximizing shipping on the bay.
'Our job is to make it possible for maritime-related companies to make a profit," he said.
Bishop emphasized the family-friendly wages paid by marine industries. He also hinted at potential to use the port for launching seagoing wind turbines.
Dan Smith, CEO of Oregon Resources Corp., echoed Bishop's complaints about Oregon regulators when he described his company's quest for chromite mining and processing permits. He said investors had been reluctant to fund projects in Oregon because of the state's regulatory culture. Unlike some states, he said, Oregon has no 'one-stop shop" where businesses can coordinate the permits they'll need for a complicated project.
'The agencies don't work together," he said.
He rattled off a list of permits he had needed to obtain from state agencies, saying that in some cases the permits were delayed by human error or technical problems.
The cost of his plant, initially estimated to cost $43 million, swelled to $70 million, he said, with $5 million alone spent on permits.
A couple of smaller employers took the podium to talk about the economy as they saw it.
Frank Hanson and his son John, owners of South Coast Office Supply in Coos Bay, traced the history of their company since 1982.
Frank Hanson and his own father started the company in 1982 with a $500 loan.
'We've almost got the $500 paid off," he joked.
He said it was hard to make local customers aware of the scope of his company's services, such as copier sales.
Bill and Margery Whitmer of Betty Kay Charters in Charleston also told their story. Bill Whitmer lamented the loss of fueling and repair services that formerly served fishermen here. He also criticized the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology for 'only talking about marine reserves instead of marine expansion and enhancement."
In addition to business executives, economists weighed in on the state of the area. Guy Tauer, an economist for the Oregon Employment Division, said unemployment in Coos County had peaked at 13.4 percent in 2008 and now stood at 11.7 percent.
Compared with 2004, there are twice as many applicants and half as many job orders at Employment Department offices in Coos and Curry counties.
The morning's keynote speaker, economist John Mitchell, gave an international perspective on the economy. Not all the indicators are bad, he said.
But he said Congress had 'squandered" an opportunity this summer to deal with the nation's crippling deficit.