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Bend's economy is coming back to life

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Articles - July 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The spirit of invention, as applied to video software, gliders and beer


Windward Performance owner Greg Cole has grown his operation at Bend Municipal Airport to 24 employees, with plans to grow to 120 jobs. Windward designs and builds high-performance flying machines including a glider designed to soar to a record-breaking 90,000 feet.
It’s the morning rush hour, and you can barely hear auto traffic over the frogs and red-winged blackbirds in the cattails outside of StreamIt headquarters in the Old Mill District. “I’m on the river for under a buck a square foot,” says founder and CEO Jeff Coffey. “We go paddle any time we want to. There’s a kayak shop right next door.”


Coffey moved to Bend 11 years ago and fell in love with the fly-fishing and the community feel. After his job fell through, he decided to try something entrepreneurial. He’s 37 years old, and StreamIt is his fifth company. He’s hoping to grow it to 50 employees by the end of 2012. “With my other companies the goal was to sell them,” he says. “This time we’re going to build it here in Bend.”

The goal of StreamIt is to help people and institutions distribute videos online and get paid for them. There is a huge market for training and educational business videos, and for the most part they are still sold as DVDs. “DVDs are dying,” he says. “Why in the world would I manufacture a DVD? I get global distribution immediately online. And I get analytics.”

In Coffey’s view, small technology companies like his are the obvious sweet spot for Bend. “We’ve done light manufacturing,” he says. “Light manufacturing killed us. It’s time to get serious about taking risks on startups.”

Coffey didn’t think he was taking a personal risk when he bought a home in 2006. Today he is $250,000 under water. He’s not happy about it, but he points out that in many ways Bend’s crash has been good for entrepreneurs. Rent is cheap and the pool of people hungry for work is large. He can pay his software developers $60,000 to $80,000 as compared to the $100,000 to $120,000 they would earn in the Bay Area. He just has to convince them to live in Bend and kayak instead of sitting in California traffic.

Bend may be a community of choice for Coffey and his fellow serial entrepreneurs, but it is also a town with strong blue-collar roots. You see that when you drive east from the shops and restaurants of the Old Mill District over to the city’s more modest east side of older neighborhoods, box stores and industrial parks. Coffey is correct about the travails of light manufacturing in Bend, but at the same time it is difficult and a little sad to imagine a Bend where workers don’t build things for the physical world, like airplanes.

Out at the airport, it takes me a while to figure out where Windward Performance is located. I finally locate some workers in grimy clothes, building things by hand in a noisy hangar. They direct me to general manager Tim Gorbold. He tells me he joined the company two years ago; since then it’s grown from six people to 24. Among the recent hires are a 19-year-old woman, an 88-year-old machinist and recent graduates from Lehigh and Purdue universities. Asked what is enabling the company to expand, Gorbold says, “Greg is a brilliant aerodynamicist.”

Windward’s owner, Greg Cole, came to Bend in 1995 to work with Lanceair. Cole also served as chief engineer for Columbia Aircraft, which built highly regarded planes in Bend but ran into cash-flow problems and was bought out of bankruptcy by Cessna. Cessna told Oregon Business it had no plans to leave Bend a year before doing exactly that, shifting jobs to Mexico. Another major employer, Epic Aircraft, was sold out of bankruptcy in 2010 and is struggling to revive operations.

When Cole talks about the lost jobs at the airport he grits his teeth and shakes his head. Then he moves to show me what he’s working on in his seven-hangar operation: a glider designed to soar to a record-breaking 90,000 feet (close to completion), an electric plane with a tilt-wing design to combine the lift of a helicopter with the thrust of a small plane (concept stage), aerodynamic wind turbines that produce more electricity by bouncing around like beach kites, a super-bad glider capable of withstanding 10Gs — more torque than what fighter pilots absorb.

“We can’t be crude,” Cole says. “We have to be exceedingly elegant, exceedingly low-drag, exceedingly light and strong.”

The Windward operation does not resemble a factory production line so much as a sprawling innovation lab. Employees are making carbon fiber molds by hand. Cole walks through the facility briskly, riffing on lift-to-drag ratios, pressurized breathing machines, space exploration and the challenge of finding a fuel source anywhere near as efficient as petroleum. It is exhausting and delightful to try to keep pace with his ideas.

Outside of the hangars in the midday light, Cole gestures to the nearby building that Cessna abandoned. “I worked in that building when it first opened,” he says. “I’d like to get back in there, building airplanes.”

The company will need to grow for that to happen, and it is. Windward and Cole are getting a lot of publicity for their Perlan glider, and their other projects offer tantalizing glimpses of the future. “We’d like to be a 120-person company,” says Cole. “We’re headed in that direction.”




Kat Merrick
+1 #1 Bend Economy Coming back to LifeKat Merrick 2011-06-27 14:19:00
Thank you for your honest, critical evaluation of Bend's overblown speculative real estate market pre-2008. I was however, very disappointed that while you were able to id the historical damage caused by the speculation, you failed to notice or mention that the speculation is still going on.

Despite the recent crash in the market, and 1,000's of homes on the market in Bend the City of Bend is allowing the developers still standing to continue to clear natural land and lay infrastructure for additional homes - something this town clearly does not need. Northwest Crossing is currently the worst offender.
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Puppie Woggins
-1 #2 EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE IN BEND, AS ALWAYSPuppie Woggins 2011-06-27 16:10:28
I don't know what this "Kat Merrick" (possible descendant of "ELEPHANT MAN" John Merrick) is talking about, because everything is JUST FINE IN BEND.

There never was a Bubble, and therefore there could have never been a crash. We all have reason for ETERNAL OPTIMISM here in Bend, because any GOD FEARING person knows, the only thing you need to prop up real estate prices is a RIVER. And possibly mountain views. And proximity to skiing. Jobs? Psh, that is so 2006.

There are some that call us CRACKED-OUT NARCISSISTS. Some call us CALI-BANGER MORONS. Some call us FART-SNIFFING DIP[blocked]S. And then there are some, possibly the worst of all, that call us some fourth thing. You know what I say to that?

Anyway. Bend is OK. As soon as we get past this little rough patch of DEVELOPER SUICIDES, IMPLODING BUSINESSES, and POSTAGE-STAMP SIZED SUBDIV'S THAT WILL NEVER BE BUILT AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE, well, we'll be just fine. JOPLIN-FINE as my grandpappy calls it.

I for one am glad that the bubble we never had brought cali-spankin speculators to this town. They done made it a much better place to live out my final years. Now they can tell me in person how they will change Bend into the last place they lived in Southern California, a place they despise, but still a place they feel the need to re-create here. Thank God for these Saints.

Frankly, this whole FINANCIAL CRISIS is really a blessing in DISGUST. Fer (yep, Fer) instance, now the entire town can forego the HARDSHIP of home ownership, and can eternally join the Rental Set, with parties every night, and only the occasional METH-FUELED GUN BATTLE to offend the eye.

Secondly, everyone is flat-ass broke. Ever-budee was getting pretty uppity, with their non-stop eating, feeding their kids and driving to work.

Third, people like working forever, and now since our munee is gone, we can all count on working forever, hopefully dying at work before they then run our corpse down the kitchen disposal at Mikkie Doogles.

Unemployment. Suicide. Landscape gashes instead of ugly trees & open areas.


If this past decade has taught us nothing, it's taught us... Well, it is clear we haven't lurnt much. I just hope people see thru the MEDIA-FUELED HORROR, and open their eyes to the truth:


Now let's all get back to the business of WILDLY OVERMARKETING OURSELVES, cuz it seems clear from the consequences of the past, that it will do us nothing but good in the END.

P.S. Never was a bubble.
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0 #3 Where have all the locals gone?LavaBear 2011-06-27 18:19:47
It appears that every single business featured in this article is owned by people who have no historical ties to the area. People like myself who were raised here, bought residences before 'the boom', are highly educated and experienced, are rarely EVER recognized for their achievements. Starting a new business (not tech, retail or industry-relate d) is truly very difficult, with little community support. A lot of us have already been run out of our hometown, which by the way, was a much easier and enjoyable place to live in the '80s and early '90s before everything on two legs moved here. I miss the serenity we once had. I miss the affordability. I miss my friends who have been forced to move away. Developers have virtually erased our history and traditions and trampled Bend's natural spaces as they grow in every direction of town, like a spreading cancer. Maybe an article should be written about that, the REAL Bend, and interview the REAL people?
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0 #4 RE: Bend's economy is coming back to lifeGuest 2012-07-07 07:03:54
I used to live in Bend from the mid-70s to the early 80s. it's too bad what's happened but things in 1980 got really bad so I had to vacate and relocate. Most years I still visit Bend. In all the time I lived in Bend earning a living has been difficult at best. In recent visits, I don't see much change except for the massive highways that replaced that 2 lane roads. The main cause of employmenr is the restrictive land policies. It is difficult to impossible to create subdivisions in the Bend area.
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