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Ed Whitelaw, economist and consultant on Timber Wars, dies at 80

Ed Whitelaw
Ed Whitelaw

Ed Whitelaw, who taught economics at the University of Oregon for more than 50 years and founded the prestigious consulting firm EcoNorthwest, has died at age 80.

In 1974, Whitelaw founded EcoNorthwest in Eugene. It’s now headquartered in Portland, with offices in Seattle. John Tapogna is now the firm’s president. He said Whitelaw had a strong interest in bringing academic thinking into the public space.

Early on, Whitelaw saw how the natural resources and amenities of a place can be a draw for talent and expertise — he called it a “second paycheck.” Tapogna said Whitelaw would gaze into the future. “He would always say, I’m not going to squint, I’m going to gaze,” Tapogna said.

“He would gaze over years and not worry about, okay here’s a business cycle, and we’re about to go into a recession and what’s going to happen to the interest rates? And that’s all very important, and we should be paying attention to that but that was not his interest. His interest was, are we set up for 20 to 40 to 50 years from now?”

Tapogna said Whitelaw advised President Bill Clinton during the Timber Wars of the 1990s.

“He was making the case that a well-managed and protected environment was core to the comparative advantage of Oregon’s economy,” Tapogna said. “He was, before others, starting to see the trend of what’s now called the knowledge economy.”

Whitelaw founded another consulting firm in Eugene called FION – Figure It Out Now. He split his time between Tumalo and Eugene. Whitelaw is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Read this tribute to Ed Whitelaw by John Tapogna.

Copyright 2021 KLCC.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rachael McDonald is News Director at KLCC. She’s been with the station for more than 10 years. Previously, she established the Richland, Washington bureau for the Northwest News Network. She also worked as News Director at KAZU in Monterey, California. Rachael has won numerous awards for her reporting.