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.
This year’s Pulitzer Prizes were distinguished by a new-generation nonprofit newsroom sharing a prize with an old-generation newspaper newsroom. And while the prize duly rewards remarkable work and shows that a new content model clearly produces outstanding journalism, it doesn’t prove a financial solution for the distressed industry.
This week, ProPublica shared the Pulitzer for investigative work with The New York Times for the astounding story that a ProPublica reporter did about a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina, which ran in The New York Times Magazine. ProPublica has been up and running for only a little more than two years. Based in Manhattan, it is focused on investigations in the public interest and is primarily funded by Bay Area billionaires Herbert and Marion Sandler, whose Sandler Foundation gave $10 million to start the nonprofit. ProPublica’s stories are offered free to traditional news organizations and also published on its website.
Paul Steiger, ProPublica’s editor-in-chief, told Joe Strupp of Media Matters after the prizes were announced Monday that winning the Pulitzer “suggests that our nonpartisan, nonprofit model can serve a role in this time of expanding change in the media.”
Oregon’s stubbornly high unemployment rate isn’t getting any worse, but it isn’t getting any better either. If it weren’t for the dramatic upswing at Intel, the state’s economy would be in deep trouble. Businesses globally are looking at relocating just as hard as cities and states are working to attract them. So who’s moving where? And why?
I posed that question to John Boyd Jr. last week during an interview at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront. Boyd is a principal in the Princeton, New Jersey-based Boyd Company, one of the nation’s leading site selection firms, representing companies such as PepsiCo, Honda, Hewlett-Packard and Royal Caribbean Cruises, which moved into Springfield a few years ago, creating hundreds of new jobs in Lane County.
It was eye-opening to speak with an expert who deals with the nuts and bolts of moving companies and has numbers on hand to make his points. His operating cost analysis of seven small market cities in the Western U.S. was interesting enough that I’m going to paste it below for the number geeks among you to consider (check out those utility costs in Quincy!). The rest of you should feel free to scroll down to the trends Boyd is seeing in his business.
When you think of what’s on the minds of most high school students these days, managing finances is probably not as high up on the list as the new car they’re dreaming of or the dress they’re buying for prom. But maybe it ought to be, since only 59% of young adults pay their bills on time, while most parents aren’t teaching their kids about saving and investing for retirement.
Which is what brought me to a business class at Gladstone High School yesterday. I was invited there by Bryan Sims, the 26-year-old CEO of brass|MEDIA Inc., a Corvallis-based media company focused on promoting financial literacy and formed by Sims when he was just 19. Yesterday was the kick-off for brass’ “Money Side of Life Tour,” launched in time for financial literacy month with Gladstone as its first stop. The tour is part of the brass|STUDENT PROGRAM – Oregon, an initiative to get free personal-finance resources (like the company’s flagship magazine) to teachers and students around the state.
The five-school tour has First Tech Credit Union as a presenting sponsor, and financial education officer Ryan McKernan was among the speakers at the Gladstone presentation. McKernan said it’s a good time to be promoting the topic among high school students, with district budgets cutting out financial-education classes as required credits. “And being a member-owned co-op, like all credit unions are, our strength is in our members,” McKernan said. “So as strong as they are, our balance sheet will reflect that as well.”
Bill Bradbury and John Kitzhaber are Oregon leaders who know the state bureaucracy inside and out. Yet they are both running for governor on a platform of transformative change and fresh ideas. What are their ideas on the subject of restoring Oregon’s sickly economy to health?
Bradbury and Kitzhaber made their strongest pitches to the business community Tuesday afternoon at a forum sponsored by the Oregon Business Association, the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, the Portland Business Alliance and the Software Association of Oregon. Both men spoke with the poise and confidence you would expect from savvy veterans seeking to win key votes, and to their credit they did offer some compelling original ideas. Whether these ideas can become tangible programs producing practical results is a different matter.
Bradbury, who served with the state Legislature for 14 years before becoming Secretary of State and is chairman of the Oregon Sustainability Board, wants to create a new bank to get some money flowing through the state economy. He’s calling it the Bank of Oregon, and from his description it sounds like, well, a state-run bank. “We all pay a lot of taxes in this state, and fees, that go into the State Treasury,” he told the crowd Tuesday. “You can create a bank out of that and partner with community banks to fund small businesses and entrepreneurs.”
Genentech had an amazing research run through the early 2000s, with three new medications approved by the FDA from 2003-2005. Between the need to increase capacity and the earthquake risk at company headquarters in South San Francisco, top execs decided it was time to look for a suitable place for expansion.
They chose Oregon, where they have invested $400 million and created 250 jobs since buying 75 acres of land in Hillsboro in 2006.
Social networking can take place on everything from YouTube to the iPhone. The amount of time consumers spent on it tripled in 2009; 56% of Americans want companies to be involved with it; and 85% of social media users are expecting companies to interact with them using it. In short, you need social networks.
“You have to have an investment,” said Eric Peterson of Web Analytics Demystified. “If you don’t get on the social train, you’ll fall behind.”
Portland’s Multnomah Athletic Club recently hosted “Social Networks & the Enterprise Unite: Integration 2.0,” a tech innovation conference held by the Oregon chapter of TechAmerica. Representatives from local tech giants like Intel, Jive Software and Tripwire were on hand to share why social networks have played such a large role in their recent successes, and how other companies can implement the same practices to meet the ever-growing demand for instant communication and transparency, within the company and with customers.
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