Must Reads

Jobs Watch: The Alley and Dudley show

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.

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Jobs Watch: Significant signs of life

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.

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Jobs Watch: Who's moving where, and why

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.

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Jobs Watch: Familiar faces, fresh ideas

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.”

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Jobs Watch: Just what the doctor ordered

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.

Why Oregon?

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Jobs Watch: Moving into Oregon

Clearly I hit a nerve. Responses to last week’s Jobs Watch column on the alleged-but-not-yet-proven exodus of Oregon businesses from Oregon set new standards for vitriol. Some readers went so far as to suggest that the job I should watch out for is my own. Sorry, guys. Even the most hard-nosed CEOs don’t get to fire other people’s employees.

Well if can dish it out I’d better be able to take it. So swing away and take your best shot. I am here to be pummeled. The point of a free press is to encourage an open and honest discussion of the important issues of the day, and clearly to our readers this is a very important issue. So let’s discuss it openly and honestly.

However, I have to point out that for all of the great and not-so-great responses last week’s column elicited, I still am lacking the name of a single job-creating investor or executive who is in fact leaving Oregon because of Measures 66 and 67.

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Jobs Watch: The phantom exodus

The Oregonian took the unusual step this morning of running a front-page business story about an unnamed executive, CEO of “a successful technology company southwest of Portland employing hundreds and boasting a bright future.”

Was he unnamed because he is participating in the witness protection program?

Hardly. He’s thinking of skipping town.

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Jobs Watch: Lessons from New Zealand

Like Oregon, New Zealand has about 4 million residents, gorgeous beaches and a large and (let’s face it) obnoxious neighbor intent on dominating the regional economy. If you think Oregonians have a bias against California, try talking to a Kiwi about Australia.

Unlike Oregon, New Zealand has a functioning health care system, a low unemployment rate and no sprawl. The Kiwis didn’t avoid recession, but they did avoid getting creamed by it. Unemployment has spiked to 7.3%, the highest rate there since 1999, but nowhere near the double-digit woes we’ve been wrestling with in Oregon.

I’m no expert on New Zealand, but I liked what I saw during my recent travels there. A lot. Here are a few lessons I’m bringing back to Oregon, for what it’s worth.

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Jobs Watch: Indie Hops grows investment

This just in from Oregon’s ever-growing beer biz: Portland-based startup Indie Hops will donate $1 million to Oregon State University to launch a new breeding program for aroma hops grown in the Willamette Valley. Add that donation to a second million-dollar Indie Hops investment to develop the first hop pellet mill in the Valley along with cold storage and distribution facilities, and you’ve got a new company that could give craft brewers the stability — and respect — that they deserve.

It is fitting that the only U.S. hop merchant dedicated entirely to aroma hops for craft breweries is based in Oregon. Oregonians have been growing first-rate hops and brewing excellent beer since statehood, but for reasons involving the corporate dominance of the Anheuser-Busch InBevs of the world, hops and beer have remained surprisingly disconnected here. Hops are grown in the Valley but processed in Yakima, Wash., where they are sold as commodities, with unpredictable and occasionally maddening price swings. The 18-month-old Indie Hops aims to improve on that inefficient system by purchasing quality hops from Valley farmers, processing them into pellets at a newly completed mill between Hubbard and Mount Angel, and selling them to brewers all over the West Coast. The mill will employ just a few people to start, but if the new local supply catches on there is huge potential for growth.

Indie Hops’ co-founders are Roger Worthington and Jim Solberg, high school football buddies from Corvallis who decided to take the start-up plunge over the course of an evening sampling the wares at the Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland. Worthington was a successful asbestos litigation attorney who was looking for a worthwhile and fun investment. Solberg was a 16-year Nike veteran who quit his job to sail the Pacific Coast in a craft he built himself and help out with a variety of start-ups including Nutcase Helmets and Hammersurf.

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Jobs Watch: Coming soon, animation jobs

Almost exactly one year ago, Laika’s first feature film, Coraline, made its world-wide debut in downtown Portland. Now comes the news that this dark but endearing work of stop-action animation has been nominated for an Academy Award, launching a small, independent Oregon studio with a 36-year-old CEO into the big-leagues with Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks.

This is excellent news for Oregon’s film industry and a validation for the father-son tandem of Laika chairman Phil Knight and CEO Travis Knight. They took bold risks on Coraline, financially and artistically, and their risks are being rewarded. The film has already grossed more than $120 million (twice what it cost to make), and the publicity and gravitas of an Oscar nomination will boost sales as Coraline hits theaters in animation-crazy Japan and tackles the DVD and paid-television markets domestically.

“Five years ago when we were trying to find a partner for Coraline, nobody had heard of us,” CEO Travis Knight told me yesterday afternoon. “Obviously that changes with this nomination. This will make things easier for the business. But it also increases pressure on us creatively. We’ve set the bar high for what we’re capable of doing and we’ve got to live up to that now.”

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