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Tim Boyle gets Portland business leaders to take out the trash

Photo: Tim Boyle/ Columbia Sportswear

When Tim Boyle walked on to the stage at the Oregon Business Plan Summit this week, he was ready to talk trash.

The litter and graffiti that are spreading in the city have become a fixation for Columbia Sportswear’s chief executive – and he decided to take action, with personal and business funding for a clean-up.

Portland’s green and laid-back atmosphere has long been part of its attractions. Along with Nike, this quality of life helped to turn the city into a sports and outdoor industry hub. But in the last years, the center of Portland has been affected by a range of highly visible social and public health issues.

They contributed to Columbia Sportswear’s decision to move the head office of its Sorel brand out of the city center just this week. Nike apparently shared some of Boyle’s concerns, since it agreed to help with the clean-up.

Boyle’s particular frustration with the dirt has grown steadily in the last years. It hits him every time he returns from his summer home in British Columbia. “The change between the Canadian environment and Oregon just became very dramatic,” he said in a call yesterday. “Quite a discouragement, frankly, when I would come home after being away for a few days.”

Boyle’s urge to give the city a scrub focused on a particularly filthy section of the highway that sees over 100,000 trips daily. “It’s almost completely covered with graffiti,” he said. “Every pole, every wall, every street sign.”

Columbia’s chief executive quickly found out that it isn’t allowed for volunteers to pick up trash on the highway. He then contacted the Oregon Department of Transportation, and offered to finance a clean-up.

As Boyle recalls, it took about a year for the service to answer that it could indeed accept a donation. But about one year after Boyle transfered the $150,000, the department changed its mind and returned the money. “In short, not only were they unable to pick up the trash, they were unable to pick up the cash,” Boyle quipped.

However, this didn’t diminish the businessman’s determination. He was most encouraged to read that Governor Tina Kotek, a Democrat who took office last January, shared his interest in trash.
“We met and she assured me that cleaning up our roads was a priority for her administration,” Boyle told business leaders.

Additional state funding is on the agenda for litter and graffiti clean-up, and the administration is prepared to accept donations from businesses and individuals who want to spruce up the city.

At the summit on Monday, Kotek and members of her Portland Central City Task Force recommended more police officers on the ground, tax breaks for businesses and a ban on public drug use, along with more long-term investment to reduce homelessness.

Boyle said that he has obtained a commitment from John Donahoe, chief executive at Nike, to provide funding. Wieden and Kennedy, the advertising agency that helped to build up the Nike brand, has agreed to contribute creative billboards. “Portland is not a trash can,” reads one of them.

The next phase for Boyle is to get more business leaders from Portland on board, and funding for the clean-up. Media agencies that could donate space for the billboards are on Boyle’s call sheet. He estimates that it could cost about $500,000 to clean up and paint just the five miles of freeway, but he’s confident that it could get started in the next few months.

Boyle readily admits that the removal of trash hardly solves the wider underlying issues. But a cleaner freeway could just encourage others to put their garbage in the bin and help restore the city’s vibe.