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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair July 25, 2014

Is Oregon the most trade-dependent state in the nation?

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s first debate with Republican challenger state Rep. Dennis Richardson covered a lot of ground, with both candidates spending considerable time on economic issues.

Their exchanges made clear that the economy will continue to be a pivotal issue as the campaign heads toward the November election.

The claim:

Kitzhaber, a Democrat seeking a historic fourth term in office, touted his job-creation work and said his policies have helped stabilize the state’s budget. Looking ahead, he said, the state has untapped gold in the form of international trade possibilities.

Then Kitzhaber added this: "We are the most trade-dependent state in the nation."

PolitiFact Oregon decided to check.

The analysis:

We called Christian Gaston, a policy adviser for the governor’s campaign. He was sitting in the front row at the debate and said the claim caught his ear as well. In a subsequent email, Gaston said, "The governor misspoke. He meant to say that Oregon is one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation."

The latter claim is one Kitzhaber has made before, Gaston said. His email included a YouTube link to an interview in December 2013 in which the governor does say "is one of" the most trade-dependent states.

For context, we looked at where Oregon ranks.

"Determining trade dependence is extremely difficult," said Robert Whelan, an economist with ECONorthwest, a Portland-based company that provides economic analyses and professional consulting services to public and private entities. "It’s one area that cannot be absolutely checked."

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For instance, Whelan said, Oregon exports about $1.6 billion worth of chemicals a year, much of that in soda ash and potash.

"Most people would see that figure and say, ‘Wow,’" Whelan said, "‘where’s the chemical factory?’ Well, there isn’t any. It’s mined elsewhere, brought in by rail and shipped. But it shows up as an export."

All of the products made at a Boeing plant near Gresham, on the other hand, are hauled to Seattle, where they are finished and shipped. Those are counted as Washington exports, not Oregon.

Still, Whelan said, "there’s no way to say we are the most trade-dependent, but we are certainly one of them."

The value of exports from Oregon to foreign countries this year will be about $19 billion, a figure that ranks 23rd among the 50 states, according to International Trade Association statistics.

A trade study released in 2010 by the Portland Business Alliance ranked Oregon seventh nationally in the share exports hold -- 12 percent -- of the state’s economy. A more recent study prepared for the same group indicates that nearly 80,000 jobs in Oregon are directly tied to exporting goods and services, with one in four manufacturing jobs in the state being export-related.

Those same numbers are far larger in states that dwarf Oregon in terms of population. But according to the Portland Business Alliance’s study, Oregon exports ranked seventh on a per capita basis in 2013.

The ruling:

Gov. John Kitzhaber, in a debate with Republican challenger Dennis Richardson, claimed that Oregon is "the most trade-dependent state in the nation."

A spokesman said Kitzhaber has previously said that Oregon "is one of" the most trade-dependent states in the U.S. If he had said that, we would have reached a different ruling.

As it is, we find Kitzhaber’s claim False.

Thoughts on this ruling? Click on over to and leave a comment

Our Sources

Emails from Christian Gaston, policy advisor, Kitzhaber for Governor campaign, July 24/25, 2014.

Telephone interview with Robert Whelan, economist, ECONorthwest, July 24, 2014.

Debate, Gov. John Kitzhaber and Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, July 18, 2014.

Trade Partnership Report, "Today More than Ever: Oregon and Portland/Vancouver Depend on International Trade and Investment," The Trade Partnership, Washington D.C., Sept. 2013.

Trade Partnership Report: "International Trade: A Driver of Output and Employment in Oregon and Portland/Vancouver," Dec. 2010.

Business Roundtable Report, "How Oregon’s Economy Benefits From International Trade and Investment."  

National Association of Manufacturers, "Oregon Manufacturing Facts,"

Brookings Institution, "Export Nation 2013," Sept. 17, 2013.

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