The recently released numbers on Portland home prices say it all. With prices falling 21% from their peak in July 2007, the local real estate sector has a long road ahead to recovery. But some say the key to saving the industry, both locally and beyond, is targeting the growing masses of Generation Y consumers who are already on their way to reshaping the economy.
Gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley told a roomful of business leaders at a recent forum that he would protect their interests over those of an "out of state energy company" seven days a week. His point is well taken, given the well-documented abuses of tax credits by some of these outsiders. But some of the best jobs news coming out of Oregon can be attributed to energy companies based far out of state.
It’s unusual for Oregon’s rural communities to get the spotlight. With most of the population of the state living in the Portland Metro area, rural towns are out of sight and generally out of mind. Rural leaders for years have told me that they figure they are pretty much on their own to reinvent their depressed economies, and unfortunately I have to agree with them.
In the best of times, it isn't unusual for talented young interns to work their way into a full time job or, failing that, get snagged by a competitor. In the worst of times, they search and search for something, anything resembling full time work — and eventually move to places like San Francisco, reinforcing the message that Oregon may be a nice place to live, but there are no jobs here.
Allen Alley and Chris Dudley are both running for governor on a platform of cutting government spending, improving Oregon’s business climate and creating jobs in the private sector. They have many ideas in common. They also have their differences.
For starters, there is the first impression they give. Dudley isn’t just tall; he is huge, to the point where it seems like there is an exceedingly far distance for his thoughts to travel before he can articulate them with his Connecticut Yankee accent. His responses come out slow and measured, putting him at a distinct disadvantage at any forum involving a stopwatch. But anyone who writes off this 16-year veteran of the National Basketball Association as a dumb jock or a figurehead is not paying attention. Dudley is a Yale graduate who fiercely represented the NBA players’ association and went straight from basketball to philanthropy and business, serving as executive VP for Portland-based M Financial, one of the state’s largest private companies by gross revenue. He may not be winning the debates but he has been winning the fundraising race, and that could prove more important.
James Fallows, one of the most respected authorities on modern China, spoke last night at the University of Oregon in Portland to an audience of about 50 local China wonks, including businesspeople, academics and Chinese expats. His point was clear: most Americans have a simplistic understanding of the Chinese and we’d do best to educate ourselves in order to “become comfortable with the idea of a world in which China plays a major part.”
American politicians and media love to talk about China as a threat to American superpower. One favorite narrative holds that China co-opted American manufacturing and is now beating us out on renewable energy innovation as its economy clips along at 8% growth every year. That’s a compelling story, but not a very nuanced one.
I took a trip to Shanghai in February, hoping to get a glimpse of the China behind the hype. One of the books I brought was Postcards From Tomorrow Square, a collection of some of Fallows’s essays about China. Fallows has been writing about national issues, foreign policy and Asia for 25 years for the Atlantic and he spent the last few years living and reporting in China.
A tennis pro who consults with my far-from-professional USTA team offered some nice advice on the subject of improving performance during times of stress. “Look at it this way,” he said. “At least you’re not dead.”
The same can be said for Oregon’s economy. Yes, we appear to be stuck with double-digit unemployment for the foreseeable future, thanks in part to the egregious shenanigans of Goldman Sachs and their Wall Street brethren. And yes, hostilities continue to simmer within the business community from the hotly contested debates over tax increases, health care and other touchy subjects.
But at least we’re not dead. Not even resting.
SplashCast was supposed to be the next big thing to come out of the Portland digital-media scene. Founded in 2007 and supported by over 70 individual investors, SplashCast eventually raised over $4 million in funding and went on to partner with giants like Hulu and Nike. But just a couple of years after launching, the plucky Portland startup was shut down.
What exactly went wrong with SplashCast? Tom Turnbull, the company’s vice president of business development, talked frankly about the rise and fall of SplashCast at the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network’s monthly PubTalk last week. Along with investors Angela Jackson and B. Scott Taylor, Turnbull spoke to a packed house of mingling entrepreneurs at Backspace in Portland’s Old Town, all three of them in remarkably good spirits considering their discussion of SplashCast’s failure. But the premise of the talk was the valuable lessons they learned from the company’s demise, which they shared earnestly.
Originally focused on providing tools to embed video, music and other content into online broadcast channels, SplashCast essentially went through three phases since its launch. It began with a user-generated content product aimed at bloggers and other small online publishers, which never quite took off in terms of both audience and revenue. The second stage was building branded applications within Facebook for companies like Nike and Red Bull, a model that proved to be better suited for a campaign-driven agency business, rather than a service-oriented technology business like SplashCast. The last stage was a promising partnership with Hulu to distribute their TV shows through social media (“social TV”) and build an audience around the content. But SplashCast still needed to raise money, a predicament worsened by the effects of the financial meltdown. The company ultimately was “unable to secure the necessary funding to continue operations,” chief executive Mike Berkeley said in a blog post, and SplashCast announced its closure in August 2009.
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