The two dozen women inmates incarcerated at Coffee Creek Correctional Institution in Wilsonville stared at me ravenously; cubs eyeing the thing they hoped would feed them.
OK, a bit purple. OK, a lot purple. But I have to redeem myself by at least using one metaphor here, since I couldn’t give the group a decent example during a writing class I recently taught at the prison. There I was going on about great writing and how they should use metaphors for power and persuasion, when one of the women asked for an example. My mind went as blank as a subpoened bank accountant. (Now, had they wanted a simile, I would have been ready.)
I was volunteering for a program run by Mercy Corps Northwest under the affable direction of John Haines, Mercy Corps Northwest executive director, and Doug Cooper, assistant director. It’s a smart project, one of several around the country that use entrepreneurship as a way to give prisoners a new start.
A hot Wednesday wind blew me into the cool air of Nedspace, a co-working hub for startups on Southwest Third Avenue in downtown Portland. I was on my way to meet Carolynn Duncan, founder of Portland Ten.
I first met Duncan a few months ago when she co-organized with another serial entrepreneur, Pete Grillo, a surprise kazoo sendoff serenade for a mutual friend at Paddy’s. We were criminally awful and it greatly embarrassed our buddy Abraham. Duncan’s enthusiasm and her joy at watching him squirm were immense. I liked that. So we got to know each other a bit over follow-up coffee just as she was launching Portland Ten, which helps early-stage tech startups. I promised to keep tabs. Women are rare in this arena, especially young women. Kazoo expertise is even scarcer.
Which brings me back to NedSpace. Duncan’s second group of entrepreneurs recently started the 12-week boot camp that “combines venture capital investment standards, Getting Things Done methodology, and extreme bootstrapping philosophy.” There also are “workouts” to help founders develop “muscle” and checkups. (I get sweaty just reading this.) Founders have to put in six to eight hours a week and commit to generating $1 million in revenue by 2010. The goal of Portland Ten is to create 10 of these start-ups in the next 18 months.
President Obama’s new Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, is in Portland today to take a test ride on the first made-in-the-U.S.A. streetcar in 58 years. Make that Made in Oregon.
It’s part of a big brouhaha to commemorate the launch of the $75 million streetcar extension funded by the stimulus package. I have to admit I’m no fan of political pomp, but this is a ceremony with some serious substance behind it. Oregon reps tried and failed for years to get the Bush Administration to back the streetcar extension, only to lose out to the usual pile-up of highway projects. This very welcome policy reversal will create manufacturing jobs not only in Clackamas, where seven new streetcars will be built, but also at other local companies that will feed into a new regional production chain that could with luck grow into something resembling the Freightliner economy we are losing.
About a half-dozen public officials are climbing aboard for the ride, which is fitting since the deal is publicly financed. But maximum credit really should go to Chandra Brown, the hard-charging president of United Streetcar.
All of the chatter about healthcare reform is nice, but it sure does remind one of that old Mark Twain line: “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
So we have to give at least a few props to the Oregon legislature for tackling the issue. They recently passed House Bills 2009 and 2116. Do they make health insurance more affordable? A small business owner might be heartened by the fact that a group called the Oregon Small Business Healthcare Initiative supported the passage the bills and consider them “important steps in controlling rising health care costs and improving the quality of health care for Oregonians.”
But in reality, what these twin bills have to do with small business is beyond me. According to Oregon Senate Democrats, “Together, the two bills will cover 95% of Oregon’s uninsured children and extend coverage to an additional 35,000 low-income adults while instituting a reformed model of health care delivery for Oregonians.”
Early Saturday morning, I sat facing dozens of sharp young women who were prepared to pepper me and two other panelists about the state of the media.
This was the third year that I’d been on the panel, which is part of the NEW Leadership Oregon program at Portland State University. It’s always a daunting request to sum up such as vast and complicated question, and this year even more so, coming as it did in an historically transformational time for all media.
I wish I had been able to tell the group something more positive. Each year, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism exhaustively analyzes the state of the media and this year’s report doesn’t mince words: “This is the sixth edition of our annual report on the State of the News Media in the United States. It is also the bleakest.”
Can Oregon small businesses get some of the almost $1 trillion in stimulus money soon coming down the pike? It is not a little question, that's for sure. A recent report from the Center for American Progress shows that Oregon businesses can expect to receive more than $6.5 billion in federal stimulus funds.
Yet despite this enormous opportunity, many small business owners may be unclear about how to capitalize on the allocation. Here is where to start:
On Tuesday, June 23, Oregon will host an American Express OPEN/ SCORE “Small Business Speed Coaching” event. This interactive half-day program that pairs small business owners with experienced business coaches for 30-minute one-on-one counseling sessions to help develop strategies to weather the current economic environment and learn how to access federal stimulus funds.
An open source software company called Reductive Labs is coming to Portland with $2 million in venture capital and plans to create 10 jobs in the immediate future. The jobs are welcome, as is the trend behind them.
Reductive Labs specializes in open source software. Its main product, Puppet, helps organizations manage their networks. And according to Mike Rogoway’s Silicon Forest blog, the founders are a pair of Reed graduates who couldn’t wait to set up shop in Portland.
Which brings me to the trend. Portland has been hyped for some time as a Mecca of sorts for innovations with open source software, which has the advantage of releasing individuals and companies from the bonds of constantly paying for the latest Microsoft update. Most famously, Linus Torvalds, the great Linux guru, lives and works here. Oregon’s independent streak and open source software are a natural fit, and there are plenty of smart people out there passionate about putting it to work for the greater good. But for all the hype around open source and the mystique regarding Torvalds, real companies creating real jobs have been slow to develop.
Strike that last blog — the one where I drank the Kool-Aid and waxed optimistic about the coming turnaround. The new unemployment numbers are out.
By now, you have no doubt heard that Oregon's jobless rate is the highest it's been since the state began stacking unemployment consistently in 1976. You may also have heard that the job losses in May weren't as bad as was expected, with surprising signs of life in construction (up 1,700 jobs over April) and leisure and hospitality (up 4,900 jobs over April). Does that mean we're on the verge of bouncing back?
Wouldn't it be pretty to think so. Construction and tourism are inherently seasonal, and summer has come to Oregon at last. It's nice to see the new hires, but how do the numbers compare to a year ago?