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The new reality

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Articles - April 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Weatherford Hall on the OSU campus houses the Austin Entrepreneurship Program.

“The city’s growth in personal income or average wage per job has not kept pace with its reputation as an innovator,” says Skip Rung, executive director of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute and a member of the economic development commission. Rung and other members said the plan endorsed by the council aims to reverse these trends by focusing on three action areas: growing and retaining startups, supporting existing employers such as CH2M HILL, and “leveraging existing assets,” by creating enterprise zones or marketing the vacancies  that exist on the Hewlett-Packard campus.

Unsurprisingly, the city plan targets OSU as a key resource for spinning off research-based businesses. The university’s history of nurturing new companies dates to the 1930s, when a professor and three students started CH2M HILL, which is now headquartered in Colorado. Today the university seeks to keep local startups from decamping to other cities, says OSU vice president for research and commission member Rick Spinrad. Possible strategies include giving such companies access to university libraries and fee-based materials. The larger question, says Spinrad, “is what can the university do differently to support business?”

Another commission member, Nick Fowler, CEO of Perpetua Power Source Technologies, said the city aims to more fully exploit synergies between the university, HP and CH2M HILL. A former HP employee, Nick Fowler noted that Perpetua’s thermo electric technology is only “one or two degrees of separation” from his former employer’s inkjet technology.

As city leaders grapple with growing businesses and creating jobs, one sector has already taken off: student housing. Capitalizing on student population growth and an apartment vacancy rate of less than 1%, developers are planning at least four major off-campus student housing developments. “It’s a beneficial time for building units,” says Tom Gerding, a contractor who is building one of those projects: 7th Street Station, an 82-unit complex with 308 bedrooms. Gerding also is working on two affordable housing projects.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the city’s housing boom. “It feels as if Corvallis is under siege from housing developers who say, ‘Ooh, we can build student housing there,’” says Louise Marquering, one of many Corvallis residents who have organized to protest parking, congestion and other problems stemming from OSU’s growth. The university, says Marquering, needs to have its own plan to house students instead of relying on private developers.



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