Leading Community: Jaime Lim Raises the Profile of Asian-Americans in Oregon

Jaime Lim, Publisher of the Asian Reporter newspaper, is an accomplished businessman, entrepreneur and long-time civic leader.

Serving as President of the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon, he led a contingent of 25 Oregonians on a trade mission to the Philippines in 2007. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo hosted a luncheon for the group at the Presidential Palace, and made numerous connections with business owners, government officials and investors during the trade mission. Delegates attended government and private sector briefings on business opportunities and investment incentives, met individually with executives of selected industries and toured businesses in key growth areas.

“The result was outstanding,” said Jaime Lim. “Most of the members accomplished what they went there for. The trade connections we made through the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries were very valuable and profitable for many of the members.”

As principal and owner of First United Engineering, Jaime has worked on a number of high-profile building projects all over Portland. Most recently, he was elected as President of the National Federation of Philippine-American Chambers of Commerce.

Jaime serves on a number of nonprofit boards, including Portland Community College, the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, Oregon League of Minority Voters and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.

In his own words, Jaime shares the story of his journey from his early years serving in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard to settling in Portland to become a well-respected business and community leader.

Jaime Lim (center) and Congressman David Wu (right) honors community elder Leon Madarang at an Asian Reporter Scholarship Banquet.

I decided to join the U.S. Navy when I was 19 years old; I was the first one in the family to leave the Philippines. Our family owned some farm properties in Sorsogon, Philippines. My brothers, my only sister and I grew up in a farming town.

I was stationed at the Coast Guard Air Station in Port Angeles, where I was one of only six Filipinos. The Filipinos were hired to cook for the officers, and basically took care of the crew. When I was in boot camp, I was asked and I volunteered to switch to the U.S Coast Guard and after two years, I was transferred to Astoria, Oregon. I was stationed on a Coast Guard Cutter, a buoy tender which was used for search and rescue and for servicing the navigation buoys. We patrolled the entire Pacific Coast from Puget Sound all the way south to Redding, California, and maintained the navigation buoys. We were in port a lot of times. We’d go out to sea to fix buoys, or on search and rescue duty and get back to port in the evening. It was great duty.

I didn’t really plan on getting an engineering degree: it was something that just evolved. When I was stationed in Astoria, I was the only Filipino on the ship. We had a small crew, about 50 officers and men. I was one of three cooks. I only took care of the officers, and every third day I cooked for the crew. So I had plenty of extra time.

Because I had a lot of free time, I signed up for a drafting course at Clatsop Community College in Astoria. The Armed Forces Institute also offered free correspondence courses. So when we were at sea, I worked on the correspondence course.

Settling in Portland

Jaime Lim receives an appreciation award from the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon for his commitment to advocating for issues of importance to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

When we were in port in Astoria we’d come up to Portland during liberty, so we got to know a lot of nice people here. After my discharge in 1963 I decided to settle in Portland. I love it here. There were only a handful of Filipino families, and there weren’t too many Asian folks. I joined the Filipino-American Association, which makes me one of the oldest surviving members.

I got a job as a draftsman at a structural engineering consulting firm in town. I didn’t have any real experience, but they took a chance on me. The company was expanding, and provided training. Working with engineers, I received a lot of encouragement from the engineers and managers to take more courses and continue my studies.

I went to Portland Community College, which was still brand new then. I’d go to class at 7am, then go to work at 8. When I transferred to Portland State University, I was working full-time and going to school full-time. I’d take classes at night and on weekends. I also started my family during the time. I didn’t have too much time to study, and I wasn’t too concerned about getting top grades. I was doing all I can to earn my degree.

I passed my engineering board exam and received my license in 1971. At the time, there weren’t too many Asians in Portland working in the engineering field. I was fortunate to get some very good experience working on different projects around town.

A Gift for Business

In 1984, it seemed like the right time to strike it on my own, by establishing First United Engineering. I didn’t need much capital: my capital was me. I enjoyed working for myself. I got to set my own hours and priorities. The nice thing about owning my own business was that I am my own boss. I met people who offered work on buildings that were being developed in downtown, and the business grew from there.

I also started investing in commercial real estate, and used my engineering skills to work on fixing up commercial space that I had bought along Lovejoy Street. I also opened a Filipino restaurant and a travel agency during that time. We obtained contracts with Philippine Airlines, Japan Airlines and Northwest for consolidating wholesale airline tickets. Managing all those businesses was very challenging, but it was a busy yet fun and exciting time.

We started the Asian Reporter newspaper in 1986 to give a voice to the growing diverse Asian immigrants. When I was President of the Filipino American Association in the 1970s, we published a newsletter called Balitaan, which served as the precursor to the newspaper. My older brother German had just retired from the Manila Times, a well-respected daily English-language newspaper in the Philippines. After waiting almost 20 years for his visa to be approved, he was finally able to join us here in Portland. He had the expertise to get the paper started.

I feel really blessed that my children are very involved in taking on the family business. I’m very proud that the Asian Reporter newspaper has turned out very well. I’m very lucky to have my daughter Jody takes on the leadership at the paper. Jason is really good at marketing and public relations and getting more visibility for the paper. Jennifer manages all our books, and she is doing a fantastic job. We are able to provide a voice that represents the Asian American population.

Jaime Lim (seated, fourth from left) with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and delegates of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon trade mission to Manila.

My wife Dory and I went to the Philippines in 1993 with the hope of staying there for a while. We started with our own project: designing and building a 16-unit condominium. Together, we managed projects in the provinces of Cebu, Bulacan and Sorsogon. It was good to be able to provide work for our people, especially since most of the construction work is done manually.

America has been good to me and my family. I serve on several non-profit boards because I think it is important to be at the table representing the Asian-American Community when decisions are being made on matters that affect us. I get to go to many meetings and functions, and it’s really important for me to be involved in and give back to the community.

Colors of Influence Winter 2009

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