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On The Scene: Web ideas for a new day

A new year means a fresh start, and the business community could certainly use one after the bleakness that was 2009. Any signs of inspiration or progress are welcome, and one needs to look no further than the startup community to find examples. And in Portland, the web/software scene has already started cooking up ideas, both big and small.

This week I stopped by the home base of the Portland Incubator Experiment, a glossy workspace that fits right in with the glitzy Pearl District surrounding it. PIE was launched just last year as a way to bring the web community together and give them a space – provided by Wieden + Kennedy – to collaborate and share resources. PIE held its Demolicious! event last night, a quarterly showcase for Portland’s web innovators to share their latest ideas.

Among them was Jason Glaspey, founder of membership diet website Paleo Plan. As an active participant in CrossFit exercise programs, Glaspey knew there were many in the community who were interested in the Paleo diet, but there wasn’t a good deal of user-friendly information about the diet available. Glaspey began putting together a website using WordPress, a Suma plugin, WooThemes, Adwords, Campaign Monitor and a handful of recipes that fit the Paleo standards; $2,500 in out-of-pocket expenses and a few weeks later, Paleo Plan was launched at the end of last year. With downloadable meal plans and shopping lists available in addition to the constantly updated recipe roster, Glaspey says the site is already close to turning a profit thanks to the new partnerships – and free promotion – he developed with some CrossFit gyms shortly after launching.

Jobs Watch: Brewing up success

UPDATE (April 7) : Figures released today by the Oregon Brewers Guild show that 2009 was the best year ever for craft brewers. For the first time, total production topped a million barrels of beer, a 15% increase over 2008.

It’s always good to start the New Year on a positive note, so let’s dispose of the leftover faux champagne and talk Oregon beer. The Eugene Register Guard reported yesterday that Ninkasi Brewing has become the first Oregon brewer to earn regional brewery status in a decade. Ninkasi, which added 10 jobs in 2009, is on track to crank out 30,000 barrels of beer this year, about 10 times the amount it brewed when it first launched just three years ago. By crossing the threshold from brewpub to regional brewer, this growing business joins Oregon icons such as Rogue Ales, Full Sail Brewing and Deschutes Brewery in an industry as resilient as it is quirky.

Oregon continues to buck the national trend by opening new breweries from the Caldera Brewpub in Ashland to Mt. Emily Alehouse in La Grande and Mutiny Brewing in Joseph. The market for craft beer in Oregon is four times as strong as the national average, boosting an industry with more than 5,000 jobs. Portland leads the nation in urban brewpubs, with more than 40 and counting. Most other states have experienced a net loss of brewpubs during the recession, but Oregon has gained several dozen including, I am thrilled to report, two soon to open within walking distance of my home.

Locally crafted beer is just the latest in an amazing string of improvements that have transformed NE 28th into one of Portland’s most vibrant neighborhoods. This once-dumpy business district is now overflowing with great restaurants, lively cafes, bike racks and unusual shops. If you want to feel better about Oregon’s economic prospects, take a stroll along 28th from Glisan to Stark some evening when it isn’t raining and stop into a few places at random. The place is hopping, and it will only get better with the addition of Migration Brewing and Coalition Brewing.

Editor's Notes: Don't twy this at home

Doussard Family Industries held a day-long retreat over the holidays and decided that the company needed to jump on the social media bandwagon in a big way to better facilitate communication externally and internally. DFI has a long history of poor communication practices, and frankly I have to blame it entirely on the operations manager.

Ops is a loyal employee, and sometimes works hard. OK, not hard, but his heart is in the right place. He never forgets to bring beer to the company picnic. But he is just not cutting edge with anything but his hedge clippers.

As CEO, CFO and chief marketer, I had to convince Ops that we needed to get active on Twitter. Despite 31 years of trying to modernize him (hello, 1970s haircut!) Ops is still a Victorian when it comes to new technology, especially ones that require him to interface with humans. So we spent this past weekend in beta so Ops could be trained before we went public. The rule was that we could only communicate via Twitter. No email, no face-to-face, no phone calls.

Jobs Watch: A rough year, but it's all relative

One of the advantages of working for a monthly publication is the week-long holiday we all take to recharge for the new year, a little time to step back and let others feed the media beast. It's a nice perk any year, but after 2009 a few days of rest and reflection are more vital than ever. I can't say I enjoyed 2009, but I did survive it. You know things are iffy when you feel fortunate just to have a job that isn't getting chopped and a home that isn't getting sold out from under you through foreclosure. I believe it was Einstein who said that it's all relative.

For better or worse, I'm entering my 22nd year of journalism in 2010. I've covered deadly dull town board meetings in Guilderland, NY, surreal street demonstrations in Seattle and commercial fishing on Lake Malawi. As careers go it's been borderline when measured by pay. Another way to look at it is that I've gotten front-row access to great events and amazing people, and I've gotten paid to hunt things down and write about my findings. There are worse ways to go through life than following your instincts from story to story.

If you had told me 25 years ago I would end up working as managing editor for a business publication, I would have suggested you put down the crack pipe and guess again. But here I am. I had not covered business fulltime before taking this job almost exactly two years ago, and in my fervor to embrace my new beat I started reading The Wall Street Journal every day and talking to as many executives and analysts as possible. That's when I started getting this strong sense of impending doom. One of my first major stories for the magazine was The Party's Over, a dark look at group denial, the housing market and the Oregon economy.

Editor's Notes: Resolutions R Us

I did not lose 10 pounds, learn French or save more for retirement. I did not call my mother more often, did not curb my iPhone app addiction and certainly came nowhere near being more forgiving and accepting of the weaknesses and irritating habits of others. And that promise to spend less time on Gawker? Crikey. I’m up to three hours a day now that Tiger News has gone 24-7.

The New Year’s resolutions I made 12 months ago are in a pathetic dead heap at my feet as 2010 rounds the bend. But hope springs eternal and I’m ready to make a new batch. Over at 43things.com, 84,659 people have made 172,613 resolutions. The top five: lose weight, be happy, fall in love, get a job, travel. Fall in love is a resolution? The serendipity of romance clearly is a last-century deal.

Anyway, goody for those 84,659 people, but I need to lower the bar. So I resolve to never step on a weight scale again, never say Avatar changed my life, and never utter the phrase “lipstick on a pig.”

On The Scene: Growing up vs. growing out

Helvetia is a quaint community just a few miles west of Portland, whose Swiss-settler roots are reflected in its simplicity. Often nicknamed "Intel's playground," Helvetia draws cyclists and runners from the metro area while bringing in more than 100,000 visitors a year with agri-tourism businesses like wineries and pumpkin patches. And with a number of working farms, it's a regional and statewide resource — and residents would like to keep it that way.

The fate of the community was among the topics of discussion at a debate earlier this week sponsored by Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Forest Grove News-Times. The forum, taped at the Hillsboro Civic Center for OPB's "Think Out Loud" program, featured Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Washington County Chair Tom Brian discussing the pros and cons of expanding the Urban Growth Boundary in Washington County.

Metro and representatives from the three Portland-area counties are gearing up to decide whether to expand the UGB and what land to set aside as urban reserves for possible future development. A resident of Helvetia was at the forum expressing her concerns about the community being included in the urban reserves; now it seems only part of Helvetia is on the table for inclusion, but residents are now worried about Helvetia being split. But judging from the sound bites collected by OPB, Washington County residents generally have mixed views about the overall region growing up vs. growing out.

Jobs Watch: A bear of a labor market

It's the holiday socializing season, and that means a lot of catching up with friends and acquaintances, no small percentage of whom are looking for work in a job market that is simply not improving. The conversation can turn complicated quickly when you ask the old standard, "What are you up to these days?"

I wish I could start a company with the people I've spoken to randomly over the past week or so who are struggling in their search for work. They include two top-notch copy editors, an apparel expert, a Reed College grad with a great attitude and awesome baking skills, an attorney specializing in intellectual property rights, a hot-stuff investigative reporter and a college graduate with cafe and bar experience who has yet to receive a single response for her job applications through Craigslist. OK, so this would make for a highly unusual business team. But you get the point: Oregon is packed with smart, talented people who are eager to work — if only there were jobs. No doubt you know plenty of people in similar situations.

The latest unemployment figures show that the state has lost 84,300 private sector jobs from November 2008 to November 2009. That's a 6% decline overall, with construction jobs down 15.1%, manufacturing jobs down 14% and real estate jobs down 14.2%. Those numbers seem even worse when you think of where Oregon's economy was a year ago. Things weren't exactly popping then, and they've skidded downhill from there.

Editor's Notes: Lights on in Baker

If all goes as announced today, the beleaguered Ash Grove Cement plant will lay off 68 of its 116 workers. Most of the employees of the Durkee factory live in Baker County, which has an unemployment rate of 10.4%. That does not include the job losses at Ash Grove, one of the county’s biggest employers that’s faltering because of the recession.

That 10.4% figure (for October) is a little better than the state’s November unemployment rate of 11.1%, which is uncommon for rural counties. But regional economist Jason Yohannan told the Baker City Herald that the Ash Grove layoffs would overshadow four months of steady rates. “I wouldn’t get too upbeat about a couple months of stable unemployment numbers,” he said.

Another story in the Herald had Huntington residents also concerned about the loss of Ash Grove jobs. “Hopefully these layoffs will be temporary. Ash Grove is vital to this community, and to the entire area,” one resident told the Herald. “Those are good-paying, steady jobs with good benefits.”

Editor's Notes: The Custer economy

Economist John Mitchell was miked and prowling the audience, a business breakfast crowd’s Oprah without the free cars or gift baskets. At one point during Mitchell’s detailed but entertaining and humorous summary of the bitter economy, a man whispered to his tablemate: “I could use a glass of wine.”

Mitchell is a well-known war horse on the speaker’s circuit. Now a consultant, he was the chief economist for U.S. Bancorp for years and has been making economic presentations around the country and region for decades. Mitchell was at the Governor Hotel presenting his 2010 economic forecast at a forum hosted by the Portland Business Alliance Wednesday, and as he paced around the room, he went through a painful recounting of where we stand.

Among the litany of woe: every state has year-over-year employment declines; it's longest recession in 78 years; and the federal government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar spent. Yet, technically the recession is over with third-quarter 2009 seeing a small rise in GDP; housing might have reached its bottom; the global economy is improving; and there has been an uptick in employment over the past few months in 28 states.