The housing crash infected everything in Bend. Plummeting property values left everyone feeling poorer, and paralysis took hold. No local buyers emerged for businesses put up for sale, and the new owners moved operations out of town, eliminating more jobs.
“All these things came rolling in at once, one piece of bad news after another,” says Lee. “At the same time, we still had some companies holding their own.”
For Bend to recover from its three-year slide into the abyss, it will need more than companies holding their own. It will need companies capable of thriving independently, without dubious loans or short-lived subsidies. It will need savvy opportunists who understand how to develop new technologies, capitalize on trends, build on strengths and create jobs. It will need businesses that bring money into the region rather than relying on local spending.
Lee and his colleagues at EDCO are well aware of those needs. They reel off a list of companies poised to take off, and I recognize many of the names from my appointment calendar for the week. Lee says he talks with potential entrepreneurs considering a Bend startup about once a week on average.
“We’ve got a lot of early-stage companies getting into that next level and getting real customers and real revenue,” says Strobel. “It’s been exciting. It’s not 300 employees at any one place, but it’s six employees here, eight there.”
That strikes me as a good sign. The latest research about job creation indicates that the best strategy is to develop and support a wide variety of businesses with entrepreneurial flexibility. With the rise of cloud-based computing, great startups can be anywhere. Why not Bend? For all of Bend’s extreme growth and financial turmoil, it remains a stunningly beautiful place. That point hits home a few hours later as Shelly Hummel drives me across Bend’s west side, pointing out mountains and listing the many gorgeous spots I absolutely must explore while I’m in Bend. The client Hummel is showing around town this afternoon is moving here from the Bay Area at least partly because Bend made Outside’s list of best places to live.
Not long ago, Bend topped a more dubious list, as Global Insight’s most overvalued housing market in the nation. It was an ominous sign, but it was also a bit misleading. The simple formula of median income as a percentage of median housing price does not take into account the value of the rapids of the Deschutes River flowing through downtown, or the view of the Sisters, Smith Rock, Mount Jefferson and more from the many available homes in the west side. There are reasons why these lots sold for $300,000 to make room for million-dollar homes. There are also reasons why those homes were never built, and that buyers are upside-down on their mortgages.