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.
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.
- On The Scene: The top brass of the future
- Jobs Watch: Familiar faces, fresh ideas
- Jobs Watch: Just what the doctor ordered
- On The Scene: Jumping on the social train
- Andrew Insinga: There's real fear out there
- On The Scene: Green debate gets dirty
- Jobs Watch: Moving into Oregon
- Editor's Notes: Lottery winners, losers