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Bend's economy is coming back to life

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Articles - July 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011



Sarah Laufer, here with her family at Bend’s McKay Park, closed the retail shop for her company Play Outdoors, but she recently expanded her e-commerce operation to keep up with orders.
There’s no denying that the money is flowing again in Bend and the rest of the nation. It’s just flowing in very different directions. Digital technology, social media and e-commerce are taking off, but consumer spending remains iffy. Sarah Laufer has experienced both trends first-hand over the course of building a new outdoor brand in Bend called Play Outdoors. Her retail store downtown is closing after less than a year in operation. But the web side of her business is growing briskly from a small, modest space next to the railroad tracks on the east side of town.


Laufer is a 37-year-old attorney who grew up in Brooklyn. Her parents were outdoors people, so she got to experience all sorts of adventures that big-city kids usually don’t get to enjoy. She went on to work as a river guide on the Deschutes and settled in Bend with her husband largely because of the beauty of the outdoors here.

She took a break from law after having her first child in 2007, and decided to start a company helping parents to get their kids healthy and active, playing outside. The format she came up with is a magazine-style website with blogs and videos linked to product sales for bike helmets, clothes, life vests and other products to keep kids happy and safe in nature. She describes it as a way to share the great outdoor culture of Bend with parents from other places, who want to give it a try but aren’t sure how.

“Most of our parents are weekend warriors, they’re rookies,” Laufer says. “Our job is to show them how to get started, where to go and what to buy.”

The Play Outdoors shop in the Old Mill District lost money, but the website grew quickly, from 100 products and four brands to 1,000 products and 10 brands. The warehouse space recently expanded from 2,800 to 7,000 square feet, and the business now employs about 15 people, mostly local moms with direct experience with the joys and pitfalls of exploring the outdoors with kids. The operation could expand further if Laufer is able to raise money. “We’re looking for the right investor, whether it’s a VC fund or a super-angel or an angel group,” she says. “We’re looking for a strategic partnership.”

There’s a precedent for that. The young Bend company that’s had the most success raising investor cash is G5 Search Marketing, which has grown to more than 110 jobs since its launch in 2005. The average age among G5 employees is 31, which makes sense when you consider that the industry of search engine optimization has not existed for long.


G5 Search Marketing CEO Dan Hobin (far right) has built the fastest-growing tech company in Bend and expects similar tech success stories to follow. With Hobin are (left to right) Nancy Hall, Greg Meier, Gunnar Hansen, Coby Randquist and Amy Foster Trenz.
While I’m waiting for CEO Dan Hobin in the conference room I chat with one of G5’s recent young hires, marketing manager Amanda Patterson. She moved to Bend from Orange County in 2006 with her husband, who is a carpenter. The home prices didn’t seem high to them by California standards, and her husband found so much work in Bend that he started his own business. Then the recession hit and her husband’s business went under. With an underwater mortgage and a new baby at home, Patterson is more than slightly thrilled to have landed a job at G5 among hundreds of applicants.


Hobin takes a seat in the conference room and starts talking with the same matter-of-fact optimism I recall from previous phone interviews: “In a macro sense people are struggling all over, but it’s different for small startups,” he says. “Internet technology is on fire all over the country. It reminds me of 1998.”

Hobin moved to Bend in 2002 after pursuing a variety of ventures in the Bay Area dot-com boom years. “Some of them did pretty well, others crashed and burned,” he says with a shrug. He launched G5 in 2005 by going after the not-particularly-sexy business of self-storage units, leading the shift from the yellow pages to the Internet and providing companies with sales leads and instant analytic reports. From there he expanded into senior housing and apartment buildings. He bootstrapped the company for five years before landing $15 million from Volition Capital out of Boston last year. Sales grew 60% last year. Last October, the business expanded into a new floor, and they’re already running out of space there.

Hobin says he has no regrets about building G5 in Bend, and he expects plenty of similar growth businesses to follow likewise, especially now that the town has become affordable again. “The real estate crash was the best thing that ever happened to Bend,” he says.



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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