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Jobs Watch: A materials library for Portland

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Ben Jacklet
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Sohrab Vossoughi is a great person to call if you’re running short on ideas. The high-energy CEO of Ziba Design specializes in big ideas delivered with enthusiasm, and his latest, the Portland Center for Innovation and Design, merits a closer look.

Vossoughi (pictured left at the Portland Art Museum) has been working behind the scenes with his colleagues in the creative services industry and staffers at the Portland Development Commission to create the first materials library on the West Coast for designers and architects. This library would serve as the first element of a future design center that would also include a periodicals library, a workshop packed with tools for building and testing new creations and an auditorium to host visiting speakers.

The group has formed a nonprofit and begun raising money within the business community in the hopes that PDC will match those funds and get the project moving forward. The nonprofit’s board, packed with representatives from Nike, Umpqua Bank and Lane Powell among others, met for the first time on June 1 and is building a website to prepare for building the center.

Vossoughi says the plan is to set up a Portland branch for Material Connexion, a global design consultancy which runs a “library of innovative and sustainable materials” in New York City with an extensive collection of the many varieties of plastic, steel, wood and concrete, along with specific information about properties and performance. Companies such as Ziba and Nike subscribe to Material Connexion and visit frequently, but smaller firms and start-ups can’t afford to travel regularly to New York. Vossoughi believes that a branch in Portland would nurture local firms and entice new ones to move here.

“The idea is to create a place where creative people can go and get access to resources that are a source of inspiration and innovation,” says Vossoughi.

In his view, if you build it, the jobs will follow. “It will create some jobs for the library, but the most important thing is it would help local design firms and attract new firms,” he says. “If I have a design firm and I see a resource like this that’s available in Portland I would definitely consider moving here rather than New York because the cost of doing business is so much less here... If you can attract knowledge workers to Portland, they will create jobs.”

Of course, it needs to be said that PDC’s past collaborations with the Portland creative community have not produced the promised results. When the PDC went out on a limb with taxpayer money to create a new incubator for creatives in Old Town, firms did not rush to move into the building. That deal ended up being a dud. Would this one be different?

Vossoughi believes it will be. He argues that Portland’s manufacturing sector could benefit from a materials library along with the creative sector, generating a significant boost for the regional economy.

That remains to be seen. PDC officials have a million dollar line item to cover public investment into a new materials library within the River District Urban Renewal Area, but the nonprofit first must find an executive director with serious fundraising, negotiating and logistical skills. The search is under way. Jennifer Nolfi, creative services industry manager for PDC, says if everything comes together as planned the new materials library could open in the fall of 2011. But there's a lot of work to be done between now and then.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.


Ben J
0 #1 Million-dollar line itemBen J 2010-07-13 17:00:05
PDC creative services industry manager Jennifer Nolfi says PDC has a line item in its budget for the River District Urban Renewal Area to cover the public contribution towards a new materials library. She says PDC has contributed $25,000 for a business plan and set aside $30,000 to help launch the nonprofit.

The nonprofit is currently looking for a qualified executive director, and whoever gets the job will have a long to do list: find a location, negotiate an agreement with Material Connexion, assemble the collection, organize it, and open it to the community.

Assuming it all comes together, Nolfi expects the library to open aroiund the fall of 2011.
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