I launched Jobs Watch during the darkest days of the recession with the goal of identifying businesses that are strategically positioned to lead Oregon out of the recession. I’m not talking about cutting jobs to achieve higher profits in the manner of Hewlett-Packard, but rather creating jobs by smartly tapping into hot markets. It’s no easy task to grow in an economy still wobbling near a precipice, but it can be done.
So who’s doing it in Oregon?
I attempted to answer that question in our December cover story by focusing on six companies that are charging into 2010 with a profound sense of optimism. The companies I chose are Ziba Design, Smarsh, New Seasons Market, TriQuint Semiconductors, HemCon and SolarWorld. Obviously, that list is by no means complete, but it makes for a compelling lineup. The niches these companies are exploiting and even reinventing are hardly uniform (everything from natural foods to radiofrequency technology) but as businesses they share some common strengths: inspired leadership, a sense of purpose and a savvy understanding of what lies ahead.
Researching this piece was an adventure. At one point I had to prepare for back-to-back interviews with Ralph Quinsey of TriQuint and Sohrab Vossoughi of Ziba. Anyone who knows those two very different CEOs can imagine the synapse collisions going on in my brain as I tried to make sense of what they were saying. Quinsey is an engineer’s engineer and Vossughi is an artist’s artist, and while it isn’t difficult for an outsider to grasp why these leaders and their companies are successful, it is definitely a challenge to make sense of what they actually do.
One thing they do quite skillfully is to tap into strong markets. Quinsey can’t talk about it, but everyone who cares about this stuff knows that TriQuint makes chips for Apple’s iPhone. That’s a nice rocket to hitch a ride on. The same principle applies to China, now the world’s third-largest economy. Ziba has been working its magic in China for a decade, and that expertise has resulted in collaborations with Li Ning, Lenovo and other businesses in China.
The other companies that made our “now hiring” short list also have powerful niches, whether it’s solar panels, natural foods, e-mail or advanced wound care. The same holds true for the nine companies we list in a sidebar that accompanies the story: Jive, Laika, Oregon Iron Works, Slayden Construction, Schnitzer Steel, Stancorp, Tripwire, U.S. Bank and Wieden+Kennedy. Scrolling through that list is a good way to ease one’s sense of doom about the prospects for true economic recovery in Oregon.
But the search is far from over. My central questions today are the same as they were when I launched Jobs Watch. Who's hot and hiring? Who needs to be added to the list? And who needs to be removed?
What do you think?