It's raining -- again -- in northwest Oregon, but Kuninori Kawakami does not appear to mind. ``The volume of rain here is less than in Tokyo,'' he explains, as the water forms rivulets on the newly planted lawn outside his newly furnished office.
But it was the business climate, not the weather, that prompted Mr. Kawakami's company to choose Oregon over 14 other locations as the site for a new multimillion-dollar manufacturing plant. ``The State of Oregon was very active to bring Japanese companies here,'' says Kawakami, vice-president and plant general manager of NEC America Inc., the giant telecommunications-equipment company.
While the company had preferred a West Coast site all along, the state's enthusiasm played a key role in the final decision, he says. The state-of-the-art assembly plant, which opened in October, now employs 111 people. The master plan allows for expansion up to 3,000 workers within the next decade.
For a state that has always relied on its forests, fertile land, and other natural resources to fuel the economy, the active pursuit of outside business represents a dramatic shift. And the change has come none too soon, only now becoming strong enough to lift Oregon out of a recession that, for most of the nation, ended three or four years ago.
The new NEC America plant is indicative of the type of industry that has sprung up just west of Portland in a high-technology belt known as Silicon Forest, a name obviously inspired by California's Silicon Valley.
Activity in Silicon Forest has replaced more than half the state's 80,000 timber-industry jobs that disappeared since 1974. Today the state's jobless rate stands at 7.4 percent, still higher than the 6.9 percent national rate. But the gap has narrowed considerably since last April, when Oregon's 10.2 percent jobless mark was 2.9 percentage points above the nation's.