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|Tuesday, January 01, 2008|
The Gorge effect
Forget the storied orchards and iconic wind sailors. Dozens of tech companies producing everything from unmanned aircraft to solar energy are finding the Columbia River Gorge is the place to do business.
By Michelle V. Rafter
Picture Oregon’s high-tech hot spots and the bucolic riverside community of Hood River isn’t the first that springs to mind. But the Columbia River Gorge region, best known for orchards, wineries and windsurfing, steadily and without much fanfare has become home to an assortment of tech ventures in numbers strong enough they’re reshaping the very nature of industry in the area.
What’s happening in the Gorge is a classic example of economic clustering, where a bunch of companies in the same industry benefit from being located near each other. The proximity lends itself to local partnerships and idea sharing. The downside is that companies work near competitors and employees get poached or leave to start their own gigs. But the positives outweigh the negatives. Because of the cluster, when sales reps or parts distributors come to town to see Insitu or other big companies, they stop at the little ones, too, says Arthur Babitz, a Hood River city councilman and co-owner of a two-person animation equipment company. “We’re on the map now.”
Insitu has used part of its newfound wealth to give back to the community. When the city of White Salmon couldn’t afford to repair a 1940s-era former high-school building, Insitu leased half the ailing structure and spent $350,000 renovating it into the company’s software research lab. In the short time Google’s been in The Dalles, the company has started a number of community outreach programs, including providing IT support for local fire and emergency departments.
In addition to bringing high-salaried knowledge workers to the area, tech companies have improved wages for local residents. At the Gorge’s larger tech companies, average annual incomes range from $40,000 to $60,000, and 90% of owners and their employees have health insurance, according to a report on the Gorge tech cluster published in early 2007 by the Gorge Tech Alliance, a local tech business advocacy group.
Another milestone came in 2004, when a handful of tech executives formed the Gorge Tech Alliance to give local companies a base for networking and joint marketing efforts. With staff contracted from the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, the Gorge Tech Alliance today holds regular meetings and education sessions and has developed marketing materials promoting the area as a great place for “lifestyle entrepreneurs.” The group is also amassing data on its members, all the better to understand the financial impact they’re having on the area “so we can raise the awareness of officials and the public,” says White, with Custom Interface.
Perhaps the biggest example of the tech sector’s growing significance in the Gorge was Google’s decision to open a 30-acre server farm in The Dalles, taking advantage of cheap electricity, available land, a generous package of tax incentives, and QLife, an existing 18-mile fiber optic loop funded by a consortium of local government agencies.
To that end, companies do the usual help-wanted advertising on Internet job boards and at local colleges and university campuses, and then some. The Gorge Tech Alliance held its first job fair this past November, attracting seven hiring companies and 40 job seekers. While the numbers sound small, organizers say they’re pleased with the amount of follow-up interviews scheduled. Insitu’s worked around the workforce problem by maintaining an office in Vancouver, Wash., for employees who can’t or don’t want to sell their homes. The company also changed an in-house policy against spouses working together to attract more married working couples.
Google runs a shuttle bus for eight or 10 employees commuting from Portland, and another for employees from Hood River, arrangements that parallel commuter services Google offers in other cities. It’s “a younger workforce and they want the hustle and bustle of the city,” says Ken Patchett, Google’s site manager in The Dalles. “It’s a good way to mitigate it for both sides, because we get people who are happy at work and live where they want to live.”
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
A new co-working model disrupts office sharing, child care and work-life balance as we know it.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR
The traditional model of sports teams using paid media to get their message across is disappearing as teams look instead to social media to interact with fans.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
The 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be the year of the outsider, with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump capturing leads in the polls and the headlines. In Portland, Wheeler vs. Hales is bucking the outlier trend.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY CHRIS NOBLE
Oregon is home to an abundance of gritty warehouses reborn as trendy office spaces, as well as crafty hipsters turned entrepreneurs. Does the combination yield an equally bounteous office products sector? Not so much. Occupying the limited desk jockey space are Field Notes, a spinoff of Portland’s Draplin Design Company, and Schuttenworks, known for whittling Apple device stands. For a full complement of keyboard trays, docking stations and mouse pads, check out the GroveMade line, guaranteed to boost the cachet of even the lowliest cubicle drone.
Monday, September 28, 2015
BY KIM MOORE
A conversation with Jonathan Bennett, managing partner at law firm Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA WESTON
In 1996, after a 17-year career in the destination marketing industry, where I gained national standing as the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County, I was recruited by the founders of a new professional basketball league for women. The American Basketball League (ABL) hoped to leverage the success of the 1996 USA women’s national team at the Atlanta Olympics — much like USA Soccer is now leveraging the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the World Cup. The ABL wanted a team in Portland, and they wanted me to be its general manager.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
BY GREGG LEWIS | OP-ED
The issue of green-washing remains a significant challenge to those of us who would like to see the building sector in this country do more than make unverifiable claims of sustainability. Transparency about the impacts of a given material is the only way to allow designers to make intelligent choices when selecting building products.
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