It’s a historic moment; there’s no doubt – as Oregon State University celebrates its sesquicentennia, we are taking huge strides to expand into Portland. The College of Business, which has been sending business and thought leaders to Portland for more than 100 years, will be one of the anchor tenants in OSU’s new Portland Center, opening in the iconic Meier & Frank Building at Pioneer Square, the heart of the business district in Portland.

“It’s a big deal," said College of Business Dean Mitzi Montoya. "We are continuing Oregon State University's history of providing access to learners across the state. Offering more opportunities for students to earn their OSU degree in Portland is the next step for expanding access to excellent higher education. We’re meeting learners where they are.

Among those excited for this new opportunity is none other than the storied family who founded the retail goliath Meier & Frank, owners of one of the most exciting department stores in the world.

"To have this opportunity for young people to learn here, in a convenient location with top-notch educators is a great advantage for our community," said Gerry Frank on his tour of the early-stage renovations.

Gerry Frank is the grandson of co-founder Sigmund Frank and the great-grandson of co-founder Aaron Meier, a dynastic twist of lineage that occurred when Sigmund Frank married his business partner’s daughter in 1885.

Dean Montoya took the nonagenarian and his nephew, Skip Frank, on the private tour, discussing the plans for the future as well as reminiscing about the history of the building.

“It is remarkable that Oregon State University is locating its business school in a venue which was, in its heyday, the site of an iconic Oregon business," said Skip Frank, a retired lawyer who did not work in the family business.

“Meier & Frank grew from humble beginnings, starting as a general store in 1857, and evolved into one of the biggest department stores in the United States, certainly the biggest on the West Coast, Skip Frank said. “It offered just about everything a retail customer could even imagine.”

Meier & Frank had elevators, escalators – the first on the west coast, several restaurants ranging from a soda fountain to a formal tearoom, and a fully stocked television department well before Portland even had a TV station, which attracted parents and children to the floor where they’d watched closed circuit cartoons for hours, Skip Frank remembers.


Skip Frank admits that Meier & Frank is not a business model that would be viable in today’s digital economy, but back in the day, the store was a destination.

“This location is very appropriate for a business school,” he said.  “Our business model was successful for well over a century, but that doesn’t mean it is going to function into the next century. I look at this move as an opportunity for educators at the College of Business, because occupying the Meier & Frank building reminds us of the need to appropriately educate our future business leaders to meet the future challenges of a rapidly changing business environment. The successful retail merchandising model that once was Meier & Frank would have difficulty surviving in today’s environment.”

It is decidedly apropos that in the footprint of the iconic department store, the College of Business will focus on executive education, the retail management degree option as well as on the professional development of its hybrid and online learners based in Portland.

Regarding the college's retail management degree, it was first developed as an online option in partnership with Peet's Coffee. The specialty coffee company partnered with OSU to support its employees professional growth, offering tuition reimbursement for up and coming employees. Retail workers from all corners of the country can earn their undergraduate business degree with education and skills specifically tailored to address retail industry needs.

“This new retail management option, though developed for Peet’s, is open to all students,” said Dean Montoya. “And it is especially relevant to Portland’s economic base.”

And Portland’s economic base is showing their interest.

The College of Business has toured Meier & Frank during renovations with numerous companies and groups, including Greater Portland Inc., a cooperative that seeks to drive economic expansion, job creation and business development in Portland and Vancouver. GPI seeks to support and expand businesses in targeted industry clusters, for example, athletic and outdoor apparel and design, software and media and others.

"One of our strengths at the College of Business and OSU is that we are aligned with the Northwest's critical industry sectors," Montoya said. "We can plug in and really add value to the economy by providing a well-trained, well-educated workforce."

Other benefits of the opening in Portland involve community building, for example, a place for the online students to meet face-to-face with faculty, meet with academic advisors and take part in the professional development training. The 40,000 square feet in Meier & Frank will serve as events destination for Beaver alumni and corporate partners, but also as a hub for executive training, and other workshops and courses to prepare the workforce of the future.

“We have an online community of MBA and undergraduate students based in Portland,” Montoya said. “But we also have to supply the current workforce with the skills they need in a rapidly changing digital era. It's not a ‘one and done’ kind of world any more. You are not done once you get one degree because of the accelerating pace of change. You will need more skills to get through your career.”