11/27/2012 03:17 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

From Asia, With jobs

By Barry Glassner

"Oregon Kara Ai." That's "From Oregon, With Love" in the English translation, and it's the title of a popular television drama that aired in Japan from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.

Here's a title for an important real-life story playing out in our state now: "From Asia, With Jobs."

The rhetoric from some pundits might have you thinking of Asia -- of China, in particular -- not as our friend, but as our rival, our adversary. Not to trivialize concerns over unfair economic competition, but if anything, Oregonians should be sending thank-you cards to our partners on the other side of the Pacific. Our relationship with Asia is tremendously important -- and beneficial to Oregonians in multiple ways.

In 2011 Oregon had the second-highest economic growth rate of any state. A big reason for our relative economic health: exports to Asia. China, in fact, is the state's largest trading partner, and more of our agricultural exports end up in Japan than any other country. Portland's perch on the Pacific Rim and our access to fast-growing Asian markets are some of the best reasons for optimism about our economic future.

The importance of the Oregon-Asia friendship was never clearer to me than during my trip to Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai earlier this month. Lewis & Clark, the college I lead, hosted well-attended events for alumni, parents and friends in each of those cities. Particularly striking for me was the number of people with Oregon and Lewis & Clark ties who are business leaders in Asia, or who are barely out of college but already pursuing exciting careers.

In Tokyo, I talked with a young man to whom I handed a diploma 18 months earlier. Now he's living in Japan and working as an account executive for a bilingual job-finding service akin to This young alumnus got his job, he told me, as a result of his frequent use of that very service. Having noticed him on their company's virtual job board, recruitment scouts invited him to interview; three months later, he was moving to Japan to take his new job.

We have a senior at Lewis & Clark -- a student who was born in Japan and moved to Hawaii at age 9 -- who has already secured a job with a major Japanese producer of educational materials; she will be moving to Tokyo after graduation this spring. You've no doubt heard about the difficult job market awaiting today's college graduates. But as these and other stories demonstrate, those challenges shrink for those who think globally.

Economic activity and careers are, of course, just part of the long and rich relationship between Oregon and Asia. Portland has sister-city friendships with Suzhou in China, Sapporo in Japan and Ulsan in Korea. Sixteen additional Oregon communities have sister cities in Japan. In addition to sister cities, we have strong trans-Pacific college and university relationships, such as the 40-year affiliation between my college and Waseda University in Tokyo, which provides enriching international study opportunities for students and professors from both institutions.

Our city and state simply would not be what they are if not for the ideas, influences and people moving between Oregon and Asia -- or the commerce. Korea buys our grain; China, our computer chips and hazelnuts; Japan, our wood products and chemicals, all to the benefit of the Oregonians who help make, market and transport these goods across the Pacific. It's not for nothing that Mandarin Chinese is taught in Portland's public schools, or that U.S. trade officials are working to finalize a major new trade pact with Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

This summer, a 66-foot-long dock drifted onto a beach near Newport after being torn loose during the Japan earthquake and tsunami last year. It's hard to imagine a more jarring symbol of the reality that what happens in Asia touches Oregon, and vice versa.

Thankfully, the benefits from our Asia relationship are more common, and they're arriving every day -- the culture, the talent, the career and economic opportunities, and the jobs.

Published originally in The Oregonian, November 25, 2012