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Water, water everywhere

Water – who has it, who wants it, who needs it – is an endless fight in Oregon. Skirmishes were fought in this past session, but a bigger battle looms.

A water bill that was passed by the 2009 Legislature awaits the governor’s signature, and two days ago it was reported that an irrigation districts group sees the bill as a "back door that could easily shut down winter withdrawals" from the Columbia River.

Among other things, HB 3369 establishes a lottery-backed fund for water projects and helps the Water Resources Department to keep working on a long-term water strategy. Proponent WaterWatch called it a landmark water policy bill that would protect fish and rivers, and for the first time places statute protections for peak and ecological water flows. Which is what has the irrigators worried. HB 3369 had a long, winding, interesting journey through the Legislature, including bipartisan leadership.

An e-affair to remember

My husband calls it my electronic boyfriend, and not without a bit of jealousy. Hey! Mind out of the sewer. He’s talking about my iPhone.

I’ve had it for almost two years, and I’m as smitten with it now as when I first brought it home, lifted its slim body from its cradle and forever synced it with my life. It’s a phone with benefits. Even when it treated me very badly (my first two iPhones literally blew up) I never thought of dumping it. Sort of like having a bad Italian boyfriend: beautiful, sexy, unreliable, temperamental. (Phone No. 3 has been more faithful, however.) And, ooh la la, we can go shopping together in the Apple App Store, where I pick out fun new toys to bestow on him. When the husband asks me what I’m doing on my phone all the time, I tell him I’m reading the Economist.

My iPhriend has turned out to be a gateway drug. Because of it, I’ve become almost exclusively electronic in my consumption of entertainment. I still get the daily print copy of The New York Times (because, damn, I can’t let those guys go out of business), and I only like magazines in print format, including my own (because damn, I can’t let us guys go out of business). But all my music comes through iTunes now. I don’t buy CDs anymore. I watch movies on my computer instead of my TV; I never buy DVDs and rarely go out to the movie theater. I get most of my news from websites and radio.

The business of a new life

The two dozen women inmates incarcerated at Coffee Creek Correctional Institution in Wilsonville stared at me ravenously; cubs eyeing the thing they hoped would feed them.

OK, a bit purple. OK, a lot purple. But I have to redeem myself by at least using one metaphor here, since I couldn’t give the group a decent example during a writing class I recently taught at the prison. There I was going on about great writing and how they should use metaphors for power and persuasion, when one of the women asked for an example. My mind went as blank as a subpoened bank accountant. (Now, had they wanted a simile, I would have been ready.)

I was volunteering for a program run by Mercy Corps Northwest under the affable direction of John Haines, Mercy Corps Northwest executive director, and Doug Cooper, assistant director. It’s a smart project, one of several around the country that use entrepreneurship as a way to give prisoners a new start.

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.

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.”

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.

What would Susan do?

Legendary wine pioneer and sustainability advocate Susan Sokol Blosser, co-founder of
Sokol Blosser Winery, recently issued a provocative challenge to Oregon businesses.

“What if, instead of trying to return to the old system, we create a new one?” she asked the audience of nearly 300 at our recent celebration of the 100 Best Green Companies to Work For in Oregon. “Economic recovery doesn’t have to mean we return to over-spending, over-production, over-consumption and planned obsolescence. If we simply return to where we were, we’ll keep repeating the same growth and crash cycle. Can we revise our mindset and acknowledge that we’re moving into a world of scarcity to which we must adjust? Can we move from an ‘all you can eat’ and ‘bigger is better’ mentality to ‘quality over quantity’ and ‘small is beautiful?’’’

That’s a provocative question for Oregon businesses that, like most, measure success by how much they grow in revenue, employees, unit output or customers. Oregon Business magazine itself each year ranks the top 150 private companies in the state by revenue and analyzes who’s up and who’s down. Nearly every chamber in the state gives out annual growth awards to those companies that have grown their employee count and bottom line.

Another one bites the dust

When I heard over the weekend that Portland-based startup Vidoop apparently was shutting its doors, first reported by TechCrunch and then picked up by Silicon Florist’s Rick Turoczy, the first thing I thought was, “Damn, there goes the Next feature for July."

Admittedly, that’s a pretty selfish thing to think, but we had a feature ready to go on Vidoop’s new CAPTCHA innovation (the company makes Internet security technology). Contributing writer Adrianne Jeffries had interviewed Vidoop software developer Benjamin Stover about using image recognition to fool the robots. It was a nifty idea: the CAPTCHA displays images and asks the user to click several of them in order, which is an easy instruction for a human to follow, but not so much for the web-trolling bots.

Well, sorry Vidoop. You’d been through two rounds of layoffs and it stinks to see another tree fall in the Silcon Forest. And that CAPTCHA idea sounded pretty good. But what about me? Each month we spotlight innovation in our magazine on our Next pages and it’s pulling teeth to get companies to tell us about their cool stuff. So here’s your chance once again. Got a great product, process or idea to share? Just reply here. And do it soon enough and you could be featured in our July issue. We have an opening.

Get real, budget chiefs

Come on, state budget chiefs. You owe the businesses and citizens of Oregon a lot more clarity on your tax-hike plans. And it should have been clear when you released your budget on May 18.

Trying to make up for a $3.8 billion shortfall, Portland Democrat Sen. Margaret Carter and Ashland Democrat Rep. Peter Buckley outlined balancing the budget with a mix of cuts, higher taxes and using federal stimulus and rainy day reserves, plus $800,000 in new tax revenue.

It is easy to see in their detailed spreadsheet where the cuts are, but it's impossible to figure out what they are thinking about new taxes because it's not there. Oh, a few general ideas have been floated, including raising taxes on households earning $250,000 or more, and the Legislature has been eyeing raising taxes on beer and cigarettes. But nothing even that specific was in the blueprint.

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