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The sell-out state

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Thursday, January 19, 2012
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Founded in Portland in 2006, Kettleman’s sold in November 2011 to the national restaurant group that operates Noah’s New York Bagels.
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina

As Oregon tries to dig out from the recession, there are signs that some of the social and economic conditions that affect Oregon M&A activity may be changing: new laws expediting permitting of companies on industrial land, a burgeoning activewear industry cluster, and passage of education reform legislation to begin shoring up state universities.

The Oregon Innovation Council recently awarded $1.2 million to a new collaborative, Drive Oregon, intended to commercialize electric vehicles. “The only way to do it in a small state is to recognize you’re small and you need to work together and pool your resources,” says Chen.

Meanwhile, ESCO and Erickson AirCrane may end the Oregon IPO drought, and among the new generation of companies and entrepreneurs, especially in the tech community. Portland-based Puppet Labs, which develops IT automation software, and Urban Airship, a mobile software developer also in Portland, are actually getting big. The latter’s transformation from unemployment benefit-funded startup to a 600% annual growth rate already is becoming the stuff of 
legend.

“There’s nothing in their DNA saying: ‘I’m going to be a nice little Oregon company. They’re world-class,” says Diane Fraiman, a partner at Voyager Capital, based in Portland and Seattle, about this new generation.

Maybe Urban Airship, which launched in 2009 and has since attracted about $26 million in investment capital, will become the next Mentor Graphics. Then again, such companies may still be swimming against the tide. As a growing number of commentators have noted, the entrepreneurial ethos is becoming a hallmark of our era.

“Generation Y is born to start up,” proclaimed Fast Company in November. If that’s the case, Oregon is on the frontlines. Writing in a recent New York Times essay, Portland author William Deresiewicz described the region as an epicenter for “Generation Sell,” in which “today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business.”

Deifying innovative locally owned small businesses put Oregon on the global map. But the region’s love of the new idea, and its acquisition and scaling by outsiders, has also become something of a metaphor. If we don’t figure out how to keep and grow more of our innovation — be it in coffee, clean tech, or urban planning — the region’s unique topography may just disappear.

Linda Baker is the managing editor of Oregon Business. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



 

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Juvenal Goldstein
0 #1 DiasporaJuvenal Goldstein 2012-01-23 10:46:40
Oregon is a hostile business environment and Portland is a branch office town.
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