Blogs

Strike up the band

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.

Made in Oregon

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.

Insurance bills don't help business

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.”

Hard green questions

It’s official. The Metolius is saved — sort of. The huge uproar to block a project to turn a former clearcut into an eco-resort less than a mile from the highway has left me with some green questions.

The media meltdown

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.”

Get a piece of stimulus pie

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.

Score one for open-source jobs

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.

An all-time high

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?

Back to the garden

Sunday was a day when you couldn’t tell if it was going to rain or shine, so maybe it was that atmospheric ambivalence that kept the crowds away from the Oregon Garden Resort.

I was hiking the exquisite Silver Falls State Park and decided to swing by the new operation to see how it was doing. The garden was quiet and except for a 50th anniversary celebration, the resort was also a subdued scene. Moonstone Hotel Properties of Cambria, Calif., took over management of the financially troubled Oregon Garden three years ago. Moonstone, which owns a network of about 10 inns, most of them in California and many with garden themes, then set about developing the resort, which sits adjacent to the garden, and opened it last September, a spectacularly bad time to open any new hotel.

The recession has hurt tourism around the state: the Coast is under water and even Ashland’s vaunted Shakespeare Festival isn’t immune. The lodging industry is seriously hurting. We reported in March that occupancy rates statewide were expected to drop below 59%, the post 9/11 figure, so when regional general manager Lynda Gill told me the resort was running at 70% occupancy for its 103 rooms, it sounded like good news. A lot of their business is coming from conferences (“We’ve been discovered by the state associations”), and they’re keeping business alive by focusing on the local market, and offering low-priced packages to lure customers.