Don’t Shoot the Messenger: Changing Economic Course
Often when locals and outsiders alike consider southern Oregon, they start the conversation talking about the Ashland Shakespeare Festival and perhaps mentioning the Britt Fest. Maybe they even mention the burgeoning wine industry.
All which are wonderful attributes and attractions for the region, and there are multiplier effects to the revenue and jobs those cultural institutions provide.
But Southern Oregon continues to struggle to establish a wide-reaching economic base. Often the glibly sardonic assessment of job opportunities is the catch-phrase: “poverty with a view.” More precisely, as one particularly troubling and damning indicator of the current and potentially future economic landscape, is that an estimated 10 percent of children attending Medford public schools are homeless—and there is no greater indicator than income to predict a student’s ability to successful complete high school.
Could this economic climate change?
Changing the economic course of an entire region is much like changing the course of a freighter at sea; it is a slow process and requires deliberate efforts.
Already there are indicators that it may be happening. For the second consecutive year, Ashland was acknowledged at Google’s Oregon E-City. And, on Saturday, October 10, there is an impressive effort to redirect perceptions and opportunities for economic vitality and opportunity in the region—especially for entrepreneurs and, even more so, doubly especially for technology-oriented businesses: The now annual (it is the second year) Techtoberfest at Live at the Armory.
This is not a drab business conference, but really a celebration. There is music. There is a beer tent. There are kick-it-into-high-gear keynote speakers, like Heather Stafford, who leads the State of Oregon’s strategy on innovation and entrepreneurship
Last year, the inaugural year, set up opportunities for innovators to present to potential investors. This year, though, is more about inspiring up-and-coming innovators and to showcase resources in the region. “Though this is the second year of Techtoberfest, this will be a new event in many ways; most notably, the accessibility to the entire community,” explains Cassandra Davis, Production Manager and Event Coordinator for the Live at the Armory.
“We see too many entrepreneurs thinking that they need to move to a bigger city in order to start a successful business,” continues Davis. “Through Techtoberfest we hope to not only show them there is support here in the Rogue Valley, but also encourage our community to join together and strengthen the support that already exists.”
Although largely focused on technology, there are seminars that range from rah-rah to nuts-and-bolts for all types of businesses. (Well, maybe not fracking. Or, whale hunting.)
“Many people are drawn here for the abundance of opportunities to experience nature away from cities and traffic,” says Davis, “and one of the inspirations behind innovating and creating new technologies is a drive to create a new way of life that can preserve those natural resources.”
NAME points out that transportation hubs, like PDX and SFO, are less and less important to running a successful company—while increasing in value is that opportunity to balance a successful, wired-in career with an ability to unplug. That said, southern Oregon is also mid-point between San Francisco and Portland, roughly a four hour drive to either. Moreover, although housing prices can be princely in some neighborhoods, they are still far less than either city to the south or north.
Is this a plug to attend Techtoberfest? Absolutely. The region needs more optimism and more pragmatic neighbors-helping-neighbors can-do.
“Ultimately,” says Davis, “the event is about demonstrating support for local business and setting up Southern Oregon as a great place to develop and launch an innovative idea. We want to help build a Southern Oregon Brand so that when people are thinking of starting a business, Southern Oregon comes to mind as a region where they can find a community of support.”