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Jobs Watch: Indie Hops grows investment

This just in from Oregon’s ever-growing beer biz: Portland-based startup Indie Hops will donate $1 million to Oregon State University to launch a new breeding program for aroma hops grown in the Willamette Valley. Add that donation to a second million-dollar Indie Hops investment to develop the first hop pellet mill in the Valley along with cold storage and distribution facilities, and you’ve got a new company that could give craft brewers the stability — and respect — that they deserve.

It is fitting that the only U.S. hop merchant dedicated entirely to aroma hops for craft breweries is based in Oregon. Oregonians have been growing first-rate hops and brewing excellent beer since statehood, but for reasons involving the corporate dominance of the Anheuser-Busch InBevs of the world, hops and beer have remained surprisingly disconnected here. Hops are grown in the Valley but processed in Yakima, Wash., where they are sold as commodities, with unpredictable and occasionally maddening price swings. The 18-month-old Indie Hops aims to improve on that inefficient system by purchasing quality hops from Valley farmers, processing them into pellets at a newly completed mill between Hubbard and Mount Angel, and selling them to brewers all over the West Coast. The mill will employ just a few people to start, but if the new local supply catches on there is huge potential for growth.

Indie Hops’ co-founders are Roger Worthington and Jim Solberg, high school football buddies from Corvallis who decided to take the start-up plunge over the course of an evening sampling the wares at the Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland. Worthington was a successful asbestos litigation attorney who was looking for a worthwhile and fun investment. Solberg was a 16-year Nike veteran who quit his job to sail the Pacific Coast in a craft he built himself and help out with a variety of start-ups including Nutcase Helmets and Hammersurf.

Editor's Notes: Nurturing sustainablity at PSU

Portland State University’s School of Business Administration publicly launched its new Social Innovation Incubator last week, around the time that we were considering a poll on what stifles entrepreneurship in Oregon. The business mood is a little sour these days with the tax measures battle, the enduring downturn, seemingly endless layoffs, and Main Streets pockmarked with vacancies. It has some wondering whether Oregon is a good place to do business.

In the goofy-but-telling category, last Friday the chief of the state’s economic development agency fired back at Chicago’s mayor, who had invited any unhappy Oregon businesses to come to the Windy City if they were steamed that the tax measures passed. And then Beaverton's mayor piled on in a letter published Sunday in the Chicago Sun-Times. It's an economic slapfest that tells you something about how desperate states are for jobs and growth.

Outside the heat of all this, PSU's business school, widely regarded as a leader in social and environmental stewardship, was steadily and quietly building its incubator, which is designed to help established and startup business get to their triple bottom line, or “generate social, environmental and economic value.”

Editor's Notes: Portland takes on Chicago

I don't usually cede my blog to other writers (in fact, never), but this missive I just got today from the desk of Tim McCabe, chief of the state's economic development agency, challenging Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to an economic duel was just too fun.

On The Scene: Entrepreneurs share their secrets

Growing big and growing fast is no easy feat for a startup. Particularly in this economy, just getting investment is difficult. But some entrepreneurs do manage to quickly grow their businesses, or even enter established companies and take them to new heights — but not without some bumps along the way. Still, their success stories are valuable resources for anyone thinking of dipping into the entrepreneurship pool.

The top-floor conference room at Perkins Coie’s Pearl District office was packed last night for a panel discussion hosted by the Oregon chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE). Three panelists were on deck to share their experiences: Sudhir Bhagwan, former chairman and CEO of SnapNames; Nitin Khanna, founder and former chairman and CEO of Saber Corp.; and Matt Compton, venture partner at Madrona. Each came from different backgrounds, but agreed on many of the ways entrepreneurs can achieve solid returns for both their companies and their investors.

One of the biggest early mistakes entrepreneurs can make is not clarifying role definitions among founders. Compton knows from his work with companies as a venture capitalist that things can get messy when it’s not clear from the beginning what each founder’s responsibilities are and how the company’s stock is allocated among them. This can be particularly tricky when the founders are friends, something Khanna knew from experience; he founded Saber Corp. with his brother and his best friend in 1997.

Jobs Watch: Coming soon, animation jobs

Almost exactly one year ago, Laika’s first feature film, Coraline, made its world-wide debut in downtown Portland. Now comes the news that this dark but endearing work of stop-action animation has been nominated for an Academy Award, launching a small, independent Oregon studio with a 36-year-old CEO into the big-leagues with Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks.

This is excellent news for Oregon’s film industry and a validation for the father-son tandem of Laika chairman Phil Knight and CEO Travis Knight. They took bold risks on Coraline, financially and artistically, and their risks are being rewarded. The film has already grossed more than $120 million (twice what it cost to make), and the publicity and gravitas of an Oscar nomination will boost sales as Coraline hits theaters in animation-crazy Japan and tackles the DVD and paid-television markets domestically.

“Five years ago when we were trying to find a partner for Coraline, nobody had heard of us,” CEO Travis Knight told me yesterday afternoon. “Obviously that changes with this nomination. This will make things easier for the business. But it also increases pressure on us creatively. We’ve set the bar high for what we’re capable of doing and we’ve got to live up to that now.”

Editor's Notes: Another river dance in Salem

It just wouldn’t be a legislative session without a water issue to whack around. This will sound familiar. David Nelson, the Republican state senator from Pendleton, has introduced a bill that seeks more water from the Columbia River for uses ranging from livestock, mining and irrigation to recreation, wildlife and fish.

“My wife called me crazy,” Nelson says. That would be Alice Nelson, who is also the senator’s legislative assistant. Crazy, perhaps, because Nelson and Eastern Oregon farmers, irrigators and others have tried unsuccessfully for years to get more water from the Columbia, which is tightly regulated by state and federal rules regarding endangered species, tribal rights, hydro flows and a myriad of other interests.

Nelson is eternally convinced that there’s plenty of extra water in the river, and it’s the way Oregon can climb out of its budget hole. He doesn’t seem to mind beating his head against the wall on this idea. He’s semi-famous for calling the Columbia’s water Oregon’s “oil,” and believes that Oregon could sell its water to parched states such as California for big bucks. “You want to raise some money for education and all the other things? We’re going to have to start looking at our natural resources,” Nelson says. “I’m not saying how or when we should use it.” Nelson says this bill simply restates reserving 30 million acre feet of water that was approved 20 years ago by the Oregon Water Resources Commission and later overruled by the state’s attorney general.

Jobs Watch: Here's to green shoots

Maybe it’s just the crazy El Nino weather patterns, but I swear I’ve been noticing some green shoots popping up through the mud in Oregon.

A year ago at this time I was researching a story about Oregon’s underground economy, and the conclusions I was drawing were downright bleak. The job market wasn’t just down, it was dead. I remember tracking Craigslist Portland for a week and estimating that scams and under-the-table services outnumbered legitimate jobs by about 10 to 1.

That's no longer the case. The ratio is still bad, Craigslist being Craigslist, but job postings have improved from about 200 per day to about 250 per day. And far fewer of them strike me as scams. Metal fabrication operator, therapist and automotive title clerk are the top three entries I see as I browse through right now. These are real jobs with real businesses that are hiring.

Editor's Notes: The tax rumble settles nothing

The tax rumble is over. The Sharks beat the hell out of the Jets. But everyone woke up this morning bruised and battered by the fight. It’s hard to feel great, even if you win, when the street is covered with blood and you realize the fight settled nothing.

For weeks, the Yes lead fighter, Steve “Bernardo” Novick, and the No frontman, Pat “Riff” McCormick, have been tied at the wrists, knives in the other hand, circling and slashing one another on street corners everywhere.

With last night’s passage by the voters of tax increase Measures 66 and 67, the cops blew the whistle and broke up the $12 million rumble. By a solid margin, Oregonians decided to raise taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, approved higher minimum taxes on corporations and increased the tax rate on upper-level profits.

On The Scene: Portland gets animated

Portland is a town chock full of creative folks, as our booming music and art scenes can attest to. And after posting a record year in 2009 for filming activity, Oregon is even becoming more popular as a shooting location for movies and television series. But Portland still has a long way to go before Hollywood needs to worry, and Hinge Digital hopes to get the ball rolling.

The Hinge founders spoke at the Pearl District’s Gerding Theater at the Armory last night, as part of The Art Institute of Portland’s “Community by Design Speaker Series.” With more than four decades of experience between them at studios such as Laika and Disney, Roland Gauthier, Michael Kuehn and Alex Tysowsky shared with the intimate audience of students and industry members why they decided to start their animation and visual effects studio in Portland last year, and how the city could tap into its creative potential to become a go-to source for digital content.

What first attracted the Hinge founders to Portland – after spending years working in Los Angeles and the Bay Area – were the same things that have drawn many people looking to get out of the rat race: the fresh air, friendly people and overall quality of life. But perhaps more important to their business was the strong sense of community they found among Portlanders, who were instrumental in helping Hinge get off the ground. “It’s a lot different in L.A., much more competitive, much more ‘dog eat dog,’” Kuehn says. “You don’t get the same sort of genuine help that you do here.” And while it’s true that Portland is not exactly a hot spot for the digital content business, that fact was another selling point for the Hinge founders. “If you look at a place like Los Angeles or other industry hubs, they’re pretty well-saturated,” Kuehn says. “Oregon is very much untapped, so there’s a lot of potential here.”