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Bend's economy is coming back to life

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Articles - July 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Innovations in green data storage, proximity gizmos and SEO

Not far from the parking lot where the boys from 10 Barrel play whiffle ball on sunny days, a newly remodeled, unmarked building is cooling down in the high desert air. It is Central Oregon’s latest data farm, and from the parking lot it doesn’t look like much. You can’t see the solar panels from here, the Dutch-designed low-energy cooling system, the cylindrical “man-trap” portal that allows a visitor to enter the facility only after displaying the correct biometric information.

Leonard Weitman, BendBroadband’s vice president of technical operations, meets me by the entrance, where smooth jazz is piping into a lobby with bright white floors. Weitman joined BendBroadband in March 2010 and directed a $16 million remodel of a former warehouse into a secure center for storing confidential data. The building is called the Vault, and while it is nowhere near as large as the new Facebook data center 35 miles away in Prineville, it represents a new opportunity for Central Oregon in general and BendBroadband in particular. The company added 50 jobs over the past year to grow from the 29th-largest to the 19th-largest business in Central Oregon.

As a “co-location” facility the Vault can serve hospitals, financial institutions and telecommunications companies from Los Angeles to Vancouver, B.C., storing data in an area with minimal seismic risks. “It’s a growing business, and not many of these facilities are considered environmentally friendly,” says Weitman.

As he leads me through a facility packed with security cameras and elaborate power redundancy systems, Weitman says BendBroadband pursued a strategy similar to that of Intel: invest during the downturn to put the company in a stronger position for recovery. The company needed a new operations center anyhow, so combining that upgrade with a foray into a new business made sense. The “green” nature of the facility helps it stand out, and also supports a growing sector in Oregon. The solar panels were built in Hillsboro by SolarWorld, installed by Bend-based Sunlight Solar, and run through invertors made just a few blocks away from the Vault by Advanced Energy Systems (formerly PV-Powered).

Weitman says the plan is to expand the center once the completed portion is 60% full. BendBroadband also owns an adjacent property for future development.

A few miles away in the Northwest hills, the world headquarters of another Bend-based technology company, Proxense, shares little in common with the Vault. Founder John Giobbi works from a home office with some computers and a phone, a big window facing out on the valley and a flight simulator for honing his piloting skills.

Giobbi came to Bend from Chicago, where he worked for a large corporation that did very well. “I was in a position where we could live where we wanted to,” he says. “I wanted to get out of Chicago. And I love it here in Bend.” He bought a home with a view in 2001 and started planning his next career move. The Napster phenomenon of consumers pilfering content online, upending the music industry, caught his attention, and he decided to pursue a technological solution involving a wireless device able to grant — or block — a computer user’s access to protected content.

The more he thought about the concept, the more he liked it. He decided to take a long-term approach. “I spent four and a half years filing patents,” he says. Once he had compiled a “good portfolio of patents,” he licensed the technology to the gambling giant Bally in Las Vegas. That deal brought in revenue that enabled him to hire top talent. After a national search he selected David Brown, a senior chief engineer from XM radio who had just finished creating a global satellite radio system. Giobbi hired away some of the top engineers from XM and set them up in South Florida, near XM headquarters, flying from Oregon to Florida quarterly to check in on their progress.

While his team was building the technology in Florida, Giobbi was raising money in Bend. He started with hospitals. Doctors and nurses log in and out of computers hundreds of times daily to protect patient information, and eliminating that monotonous step through automation was an obvious time-saver that Giobbi was convinced would sell itself. Much of the $8.5 million he raised in addition to $1.5 million of his own money came from Bend-area physicians. “Raising money in 2008, 2009 and 2010 was not a fun thing,” he says. “But we did it. We closed the round.”

Now the business is on the cusp. Most of Proxense’s 35 jobs are located in Florida, but Giobbi says he plans to establish headquarters in Bend to grow the company to about 100 jobs over the coming year. He says he’s already exploring possible applications in retail and finance, including a new type of credit card.




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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