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Advocating for Portland-Area Businesses

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A native Oregonian, Pam Knowles is passionate about greater Portland. She loves the way diverse neighboring communities–in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties in Oregon, and Clark County in Washington–integrate with the Portland and Vancouver metropolitan areas to create a robust region.

“Most people think a chamber of commerce focuses solely on the bottom line,” says Knowles, chief operating officer of the Portland Business Alliance. “But our members are also committed to sustainable living, innovation, and strong community involvement–especially education initiatives.”

Knowles signed on as membership director for the business alliance in 2004. The following year, she was promoted to COO, and she is now responsible for a combined $12 million budget as well as day-to-day operations of the membership, finance, technology, human resources, legal, administration, and communications departments.

Over 1,400 members strong, the alliance represents more than 325,000 business people in the region. Its members collaborate with state and local governments on broad issues like taxation, transportation, trade, and the federal economic stimulus package. This spring, Portland-area business leaders are traveling to China to explore importing and exporting opportunities.

The alliance also works with downtown Portland businesses on initiatives aimed at making the area safe, clean, and inviting–such as a homeless-to-work project that creates jobs and helps rid the city of trash and graffiti.

With 14,000 people attending their events last year, the alliance is also one of the region’s best resources for networking. “Our Green Hour, an event showcasing members’ sustainability practices, and our speed-networking sessions regularly attract more than 100 members,” says Knowles.

Her career path began at Oregon State University and led her to Lewis & Clark Law School, where she attended evening classes while working full time.

An internship during her last year in law school with the district attorney’s office quickly convinced her not to pursue trial law. “Trial lawyers need a win-at-all-costs mentality. I’m more of a collaborative person,” she says.

That mindset drew Knowles to the Portland office of Davis Wright Tremaine, where she became that office’s first woman partner and chaired its employment law department–even though she was working part time to be home more with her young family. During the 1990s, she was executive director for Oregon’s Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability.

When the new millennium arrived, Knowles switched gears and embraced her passion for the arts. She served as program director for development of an arts education plan with the Portland Schools Foundation, then as director of development and marketing for Portland Center Stage.

Knowles’ eclectic expertise and unbridled energy and enthusiasm–along with her warm, infectious laugh–make her an ideal advocate for the greater Portland business community.

“The best thing about my job is that it’s always changing,” she says. “Every day something comes up that I didn’t anticipate. I thrive on those challenges.”

–by Pattie Pace

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