Google loosens lips (a little)

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

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THE DALLES When last we tried to speak with a real live human at the Google server plant in The Dalles, the closest we could get was an e-mail exchange with a corporate type in the Mountain View, Calif., HQ. But the hyper-secrecy surrounding the much-ballyhooed plant has receded a bit, and if Ken Patchett has anything to do with it, the frost will thaw even more.

“Corporate knew they didn’t do the best job they could have done here,” says Patchett, Google’s plant manager. “We learned that to protect your intellectual asset doesn’t mean you need to be a ghost in the community.”

The Dalles leaders and local and national media (us included) poked quite a bit of fun at Google for the secrecy they required. It backfired some, says Patchett. “We realized that we have a responsibility to be a part of the community.”

So Patchett, 38, is on a tear of community love, including getting the company to join the local chamber of commerce, man a booth at the cherry festival, find computers for a senior center, wire up a local park stage for summer entertainment and encourage employees to volunteer on company time. Just for starters. He’s also proud that of the almost 200 people employed by the plant, 70% of them come from within a four-hour drive, including “lots of OSU grads.”

Patchett left a Microsoft job in Washington to join Google in December. He’s talkative, friendly, loves the Gorge and has two dogs, four boys and a wife who’s hoping for a fifth. We don’t sense  the indigenous paranoia common to Silicon Valley types.

“When I got to Google,” says Patchett, “it was way too much cloak and dagger for me.”          

ROBIN DOUSSARD


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